Malacca ready for promotion, MPL relegation going down to the wire

With three matches left to play, Malacca seem certain to secure back-to-back titles and promotion to the top flight, just a year after winning the third-tier FAM Cup...

A dominant Malacca outfit, which has won 15 of 19 matches in the league so far, leads the standing with 48 points, eight more than Johor Darul Ta’zim II (JDT II) and third-placed PKNS (39 points).

The three-way battle between Malacca, JDT II and PKNS for the two promotion spots and the title is set to heat up on Friday.

It is important to have the right players in the team and everyone is capable of playing in the first team

- Mat Zan Mat Aris

Malacca face JDT II at Hang Jebat Stadium when a draw will secure both the league title and promotion to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) next season.

Even if they lose on Friday, Malacca can still achieve both goals in their final two matches against PKNS (Sept 23) and Sime Darby (Oct 21).

As for PKNS, E. Elavarasan’s side needs to beat Armed Forces when they travel to Temerloh on the same day to keep their hopes alive of taking up the second promotion spot.

Malacca coach Mat Zan Mat Aris hopes striker Ilija Spasojevic will be given the go-ahead to play on Friday as he is still recovering from a broken left arm.

Mat Zan faces further concerns over the fitness levels of defender Khair Jones and attacking midfielder Yashir Pinto, who have just returned from international duty for Malaysia and Palestine respectively.

Spasojevic broke his arm after falling awkwardly when he tried to execute a bicycle kick in the 3-0 win over Sabah on August 16.

The 29-year-old’s arm was surgically repaired using metal plates. Despite being told to rest, the Montenegrin has reported for training.

“Spasojevic is eager to play against Johor. He looks fine in training but whether he plays or not is subject to an assessment by our medical staff,” said Mat Zan, whose team hasn’t lost in the MPL since the 2-1 defeat to Perlis way back on May 3.

Khair’s availability is still uncertain as he was one of three Malaysian players who suffered cramps and stomach aches under mysterious circumstances hours before the 3-0 defeat to Indonesia in a friendly in Solo on Tuesday.

Touching on his team’s great run this season, Mat Zan said having the right players has been instrumental in Malacca's resurgence after spending five miserable seasons in the FAM Cup.

Khair Jones will likely face a fitness test. Photo: Berita Harian

"It is important to have the right players in the team and everyone is capable of playing in the first team," said the coach, who led Terengganu to the Malaysia Cup in 2001.

PKNS looked good in the first half of the season by reaching the FA Cup final but things have not been going well since, following an internal problem between their foreigners – Gabriel Guerra, Juan Cobelli, Gonzalo Soto and Matias Hadwa.

It is understood that the others are unhappy with Guerra, who apparently will be joining either JDT’s first team or JDT II next season.

Kuala Lumpur and Negeri Sembilan, who are fourth and fifth in the standing, started strongly but they made unusual decisions to sign new foreigners which affected their campaigns after the restart of the league in early July.

Four-way relegation battle

While the MPL title will likely be decided on Friday, the relegation battle is expected to last until the final day of the season on October 21.

Sime Darby and Armed Forces, who were once formidable teams, along with Universiti Teknoloji Mara (UiTM) and Sabah, are in a four-team battle to avoid relegation.

Sabah, however, need only one win from three remaining matches to remain in the MPL.

UiTM are 10th with 13 points, one more than 11th-placed Forces, while Sime Darby, who were finalists in the 2012 FA Cup, are 12th on just 11 points.

Leading scorers

Malacca’s Spasojevic is only four goals away from equaling the all-time MPL record of 27 goals, now shared by Police’s Khairul Izuan Abdullah (in 2012) and former Kelantan striker Mohamed Moustapha N'diaye of Senegal (2008).

Spasojevic’s 23 goals, however, does not guarantee him the Golden Boot as JDT II marksman Paulo Rangel of Brazil is hot on his heels with 21 strikes, while Guerra and DRB-Hicom’s Ivan Babic of Croatia have 14 each.

Spasojevic and Rangel are the only two players who have scored four goals in a single match this season.

Kuantan FA’s Abdul Malik Mat Ariff leads the chart among local players with 10 goals.

Main photo: Malacca United