The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Johor Darul Ta'zim II
A reunion with Shahril and Bai. Duh!
Faris Ramli’s goal inside the first 15 minutes looked to have set them on their way to victory, but the Tok Gajah came roaring back with goals from Matias Conti, R Gopinathan and Azidan Sairudin. The visitors eventually pulled one back in injury time via Khairul Nizam, but it was too little too late as they extended their winless streak in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) to five games.
As a result of the loss, the LionsXII have dropped a position to ninth in the table – six points behind new leaders PDRM FA. To compound matters, they now have the second-worst defence in the league, with only bottom-placed Sime Darby conceding more than the 10 goals they have leaked so far.
They will now attempt to seek solace in the FA Cup where they have reached the quarter-finals after successive 4-0 victories against PB Melayu Kedah and KL SPA Putrajaya. The LionsXII will now fight it out with Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II in a two-legged affair to determine which team progresses into the last four of the competition.
The Malaysian Premier League (MPL) side seemed to have hit a rut after starting the season on fire. Three successive wins (2-1 away at UiTM FC, 5-1 at KL SPA and 5-2 at home against Kuantan) propelled them to the top of the table, but they were brought back down to earth in a 3-1 defeat at T-Team and conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes to lose two valuable points against Selangor PKNS at home.
They looked set to return to winning ways at Penang FA last Saturday after Zaquan Adha put them up inside the first two minutes, but two goals in injury time by the hosts saw them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The result means they have dropped to sixth in the league, five points off the top.
To compound matters, first-choice goalkeeper Anis Faron was arrested by police after the game for allegedly hurling vulgarities at several Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel while walking into the changing room and it remains to be seen if he will be available for this upcoming match.
While they have the most fearsome attack in the MPL with 16 goals in six matches, 11 goals conceded at the other end also makes them the third-worst defence in the league. It hasn't affected their progress in the FA Cup thus far – beating PKNS 2-1 and Kedah FA 1-0 via late goals to reach this stage.
This match-up paves the way for a reunion with former LionsXII stalwarts Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan, as well as a return to the Jalan Besar Stadium where they combined to save Singapore against Guam just a week ago.
Shahril, who wears the JDT II armband these days, is currently the joint top-scorer for the club – with five goals in all competitions, a feat equalled by both Argentinian recruit Leandro Velazquez and impressive starlet Shafiq Shaharudin.
They will surely fancy their chances against a leaky LionsXII defence on Wednesday night.
There are no fresh injuries for the LionsXII squad, which should be a relief for coach Fandi Ahmad.
Hotshot Khairul Amri is set to return to the starting eleven after missing out on the Pahang defeat due to a groin strain, which leaves Sahil Suhaimi, Khairul Nizam and Sufian Anuar fighting it out for the other striker slot.
With Nazrul Nazari still recovering from a knee problem, Faritz Hameed should start at right-back for a second successive game after completing his first full game in 10 months unscathed.
Raihan Rahman and Shahdan Sulaiman are still working on their fitness, while Afiq Yunos and Samuel Benjamin remain on the long-term injury list.
Player to Watch: Faris Ramli
Faris has continued where he has left off after a breakout season which saw him impressing with his displays down the wings and recording eight goals in all competitions.
After scoring in the opening-day win against PDRM FA, he proceeded to add another two goals against Terengganu FA and Pahang FA. Whilst away on international duty, he also found himself on the scoresheet via a rare header against Guam.
His sizzling runs and ability to link-up with his fellow attackers deservedly makes him one of the first names in Fandi’s starting eleven, and it will be interesting to see if he can cause problems for a JDT II defence led by national team veteran Baihakki.
Both coaches should not be unfamiliar with things on both sides of the border. Current JDT II coach Goran Paulic had a spell at S.League club Balestier Central (now Balestier Khalsa) back in the 90s, before ending his playing career and venturing into coaching in Hong Kong – most notably co-coaching their national team with Dejan Antonic in the late 2000s.
Meanwhile LionsXII counterpart Fandi Ahmad plied his trade in Malaysia as a player with clubs like Wilaya Persekutuan, Kuala Lumpur FA and Pahang, as well as coaching JDT II back in 2012 when it was still known as Johor FA.
During that season, Johor FA faced the LionsXII in the Malaysia Cup group stages where they picked up a goalless draw at home before narrowly losing 1-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Facts and Figures
- It is fairly balanced in terms of the head-to-head record between both teams – each side have a win each, while two other games ended in draws.
- The two teams met in last season’s Malaysia Cup group stages where JDT II picked up a shock 2-1 victory at home before collecting a gutsy 2-2 draw at Jalan Besar. Hafiz Sujad was the only player who scored in both encounters.
- JDT II have scored in every game this season thus far, while the LionsXII have fired blanks in two out of their eight games.
- JDT II enjoyed an unbeaten record in pre-season against Singapore clubs – beating Hougang United and Courts Young Lions 3-1, and holding Balestier Khalsa to a 2-2 draw.
- The LionsXII are aiming to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup for their first time in their history – the furthest they got was the quarter-finals of the 2012 edition where they were beaten 1-0 on aggregate by Terengganu.
- Besides Baihakki and Shahril, former Singapore internationals Aide Iskandar, Ahmad Latiff and Hasnim Haron also played for the club when it was still known as Johor FA.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: Home advantage will be handy for the LionsXII. 2-0 to the hosts.
FFT Magazine MY/SG Editor Lee Seng Foo: 1-1. Both teams are still struggling for form at the moment, and it's likely to continue.
Kenneth Tan: The LionsXII should prove too strong for their MPL visitors. A 3-1 win to take into the second leg, with Amri scoring two on his return and Faris to continue his goalscoring form.
Berita Harian's Norman Sawi: 2-1 to the LionsXII. I think it will be a tight game, but the home team will nick it thanks to their experience playing at a faster pace in the MSL.
Supersports 360's Firdaus Khan: Past encounters have shown how even this fixture can be. LionsXII to win 2-1 with two last minute goals. Sorry Baihakki and Shahril!