Felda boss insist Fighters still in title race ahead of JDT face-off
Felda United’s title ambitions face an acid test against leaders Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) on Thursday and Irfan Bakti Abu Salim knows it is a must-win game as anything less than three points will effectively end the title race.
The Southern Tigers cannot win the title before match day 20 on September 10 but another three points will all but guarantee the defending champions a third straight Malaysia Super League (MSL) title.
“Even a draw will not be enough as we’ll be four points behind with just three matches to go … it’s a big margin and we’ll need big favours from the other teams then,” said Irfan.
“Our match against JDT must be a turning point. We have some absentees due to injuries but I managed to rest a quite a number of players over the weekend and I am still optimistic we can push the title race to the last match.
“I was expecting things to be neck-to-neck until this match but we dropped points against Kelantan and Terengganu. Now we have to play catch up but it’s okay, this is test of our credentials … a test we must prevail on Thursday.”
Felda, who have been without midfield general Lutfulla Turaev since the start of the month, were dealt with another blow after Christie Jayaseelan was elbowed in the face against Negri Sembilan on Friday, forcing the in-form winger to undergo surgery and possibly sit out until the end of the season.
Irfan targeted a trophy at start of the season, saying that after two seasons of raising Felda’s profile, it was time to deliver a trophy.
The first-leg takes place this Sunday but Irfan has not given any thought towards the Cup match yet.
Irfan was pleased Felda will host the more important return leg but was quick to turn his attention to JDT during an interview with FourFourTwo.
The 65-year-old – the oldest local coach in the MSL – has masterminded two wins over JDT in previous four meetings but he insisted JDT have become a stronger outfit in 2016.
Felda recorded a home win over JDT in the MSL last August and later won in the Malaysia Cup quarter-final second-leg at Larkin to boot JDT out of the competition on aggregate.
JDT, however, came from a goal down to win 2-1 when the two teams met in the league fixture on March 1.
“The previous matches count for nothing. It does give confidence that we can defeat them but JDT’s win in March will give them some confidence too … so it’s anybody’s game,” said Irfan.
“JDT are strong in all departments and we’ll have to fight hard, especially in midfield where Turaev has been an important player all season. We have an advantage playing at home, perhaps because of the artificial pitch. We’ve been undefeated at home and collected more points compared to last year.
“There is a greater sense of belonging to the team as we have the Tun Razak Stadium to call as home. Last year, we played at Selayang and the stadium was not ours … there were other teams there too. Here, we have more fans.”