The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Sarawak FA
A must-win contest for Fandi Ahmad’s team (Haven't we heard that before?)
We're almost at the end of April, with just one game to go for the LionsXII this month.
The signs aren't good, with the team still winless in the league after beating PDRM in their opening game back in February. That's a miserable run that sees Singapore's sole participants sitting in 9th place in the table.
To put it into context, they were 8th (level on points with 6th and 7th after three wins, two draws and three losses) at this point of the season last year – and that was universally acknowledged as a disastrous campaign!
Despite all that, the LionsXII got a boost earlier this week as they romped home to a first ever Malaysia FA Cup sem-final berth thanks to a win over two legs against Johor Darul Ta'zim II. This hopefully banished some of the demons from last weekend's 4-0 away defeat to Selangor FA. The clean sheet was also handy for a defence that has leaked 15 goals in eight league games (only bottom-placed Sime Darby have conceded more).
Confidence is in short supply at the moment, and Fandi's lads will need to dig deep to snap their winless run when they host Sarawak FA this weekend.
Having lost key players like Junior Eldstal, Gabor Gyepes and top scorer S. Chanturu in the off-season, the Crocs have struggled to hit the heights of last season and are infuriatingly inconsistent so far. Having started the season well with a 3-1 win against Terengganu and draws against Felda United and Pahang FA, they lost the three games against JDT, Selangor FA and PDRM respectively.
They returned to winning ways next against Sime Darby before being held to a 1-1 draw against ATM FA at home last weekend. Former West Ham United trainee Billy Mehmet, who netted 22 goals for Kedah FA in 2014, have only netted three times this season while fellow forward Ryan Griffiths only scored his first league goal of the season the last time out.
There is also room for improvement in terms of the form of key local players like captain Joseph Kalang Tie, Ronny Harun and Asri Chuchu. Nine points from eight games see them currently taking up eighth place – one spot higher than the LionsXII.
They will have the luxury of a full week’s rest though, having exited the FA Cup in the last 16 after a 2-1 loss to Kelantan FA. Fresh legs could well be a pivotal factor in this upcoming encounter.
The LionsXII’s treatment room has never looked emptier this year – only Afiq Yunos and Samuel Benjamin remain on the treatment table, while Shahdan Sulaiman is nearing full fitness.
Zulfahmi Arifin should continue his centre-back partnership with Madhu Mohana, while Shakir Hamzah might make the matchday squad if his transfer documents are processed in time. Firdaus Kasman and Izzdin Shafiq look set to continue in the middle of the park, with captain Isa Halim once again warming the bench.
It will be interesting to see if coach Fandi Ahmad continues with a front two of Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam, who linked up well the last time out against JDT II.
Player to Watch: Khairul Amri
Key forward Amri has to rediscover his scoring form again if the LionsXII want to return to winning ways in the league. While he has scored three times in the FA Cup, he has only one solitary strike (against Perak FA) in the league to show for.
Now fully recovered from the niggling groin problem that has bothered him over the past month, the 30-year-old should be ready to reopen his account against a Sarawak defence that has only kept one clean sheet all season.
In Jalan Besar’s away dugout will be the familiar figure of Roberts Alberts donning his trademark visor. The experienced Dutchman first lifted the 1993 Malaysia Cup with Kedah FA before crossing the border to join Home United, where he picked up the 1999 S.League title.
He went on to achieve success in Indonesia by winning the league with Arema Malang in 2010, before returning to Malaysia with Sarawak FA where he has stayed since. The Crocs management kept faith with the 54-year-old despite relegation in 2012 and he promptly led them right back up after a season in the Premier League.
Now into his fifth year, he will be looking to build on last’s season success where they finished a respectable seventh position – just a point off the top half.
Facts and Figures
- The LionsXII have the slight upper hand when it comes to games between the two teams – in six matches, they have won thrice while Sarawak won twice. The other match ended up in a draw.
- The LionsXII has never lost at home to the Crocs – beating them 3-0 in the 2012 season and 1-0 in the 2013 Malaysia Cup group stages, before a 0-0 draw last season.
- Sarawak have yet to win away from home this season – drawing 3-3 at Felda, before losing 2-1 to JDT, 2-0 to Selangor and 1-0 to PDRM.
- The LionsXII are unbeaten at home this season – beating PDRM 5-3 and holding Terengganu and JDT to draws in the league, while beating KL SPA Putrajaya and JDT II in the FA Cup.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: This is as good a chance as any if the LionsXII want to get back to winning ways. 3-1 to the home team.
Gary Koh: 2-1. They are overdue for a win and against Sarawak who are very poor travellers, this is the best chance to record three points since the first game of the season.
Kenneth Tan: The LionsXII’s home form this year has been good, while Sarawak has struggled away from home. I see that continuing – a clean 2-0 win for the LionsXII.
The Straits Times' Deepanraj Ganesan: 3-0. It's about time the LionsXII won in the league. Expect Faris to show against Sarawak why he will be a big miss in the FA Cup semi-finals.
938Live's Noah Tan: I'm predicting a narrow 2-1 win to end the LionsXII's seven-game winless streak. Khairul Nizam and Gabriel Quak to get on the scoresheet.
Darren Goon: LionsXII's FA Cup exploits have boosted their confidence but also sapped their energy. Nonetheless, they should still be too much for a struggling Sarawak side, 2-1 to the hosts.
Cover Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT and Kamarul Akhir/asiana.my