The FourFourTwo Preview: Pahang vs LionsXII
A daunting away trip for the Singaporeans.
We’re now heading into the hectic month of April where the LionsXII are involved in a total of six games in 21 days, starting this Saturday and ending with a home game against Sarawak FA on the 25th.
There is also the small matter of a two-legged Malaysia FA Cup quarter-final against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II in between, but the main priority now is to get back to winning ways in the Malaysian Super League (MSL). The LionsXII have yet to win since the opening day of the season, with three successive draws leaving them in eighth position in the table – five points adrift of leaders Felda United.
A total of nine players were away on international duty with the Singapore national team, as the Lions suffered a 2-0 loss to Thailand in Korat before being held to a shock 2-2 draw by Guam at the Jalan Besar Stadium just days ago. They will certainly be hoping for better fortunes in club colours as they visit a venue which they have not had the best of fortunes at over the years.
Their hosts, Pahang FA, had a spectacular 2014 where they claimed a Malaysia Cup and FA Cup double as well as finishing third in the league, but they seemed to have hit a rough patch this season.
Shock pre-season losses in Singapore against the Courts Young Lions and Hougang United rang alarm bells and they carried that lowly form into the season proper – winning just one game in five as they find themselves currently languishing in the bottom three.
That solitary win came in the fourth game against Sime Darby via goals from Zesh Rehman and R Gopinathan, but they followed that up with a 1-0 loss to ATM FA. Goals have also been hard to come as they have scored just three thus far. The much-vaunted strike force of Dickson Nwakaeme and Matias Conti is not exactly firing on all cylinders, having scored just one between them compared to the total tally of 15 goals last season.
At least things have been rather tight at the back with big centre-backs Rehman and Damion Stewart limiting opposition teams to just four goals. They can also be contented with a decent FA Cup run so far which saw them beat JDT and MISC-MIFA en route to the quarter-finals.
With the likes of Nwakaeme and Conti misfiring so far, electric winger Gopinathan has been the shining light with a total of three goals in all competitions. The 25-year-old was the only two Pahang representatives (the other being first-choice keeper Khairul Azhan Khalid) in the Malaysia national team, which suffered a heavy 6-0 defeat to Oman last week.
Aside from ‘Gopi’, the Tok Gajah also possesses a number of good locals in the form of Azidan Sairudin, D Saarvindran, Azamuddin Akil and Fauzi Roslan. With an excellent home record against the LionsXII so far, they will surely be eyeing the chance to get a much-needed three points to lift them up the table.
The international break saw Afiq Yunos joining Samuel Benjamin on the long-term casualties list, as the big centre-back sustained a grade-one strain in his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), as well as chipping a bone in his right knee, against Thailand. With the former out for about six months, Zulfahmi Arifin and Madhu Mohana will likely pair up in the heart of defence.
Nazrul Nazari is still recovering from the knee problem which saw him miss out on the last two games, but Faritz Hameed has recovered from his knee cartilage injury which saw him miss out on the AFF Suzuki Cup and could be in line for his first start for the club since June 2014.
Hardman Raihan Rahman is also back to full fitness while Shahdan Sulaiman has resumed light training with the team.
Player to Watch: Zulfahmi Arifin
It has been quite a season so far for Zulfahmi, who looks to have made the transformation from deep-lying midfielder to centre-back seamlessly.
The 0-0 draw against Felda on 7th March was the first time he played in that position in a competitive game, but he adapted to it like a fish to water and managed to keep Edward Junior Wilson and company quiet that night.
Since then, he has been deployed there for both club and country – playing five successive games, a run which is set to continue with Afiq now out with a long-term injury. With Nkawaeme hungry to get his first league goal this season, all eyes will be on the 23-year-old who will be tasked with stopping him together with partner Madhu.
Friendship has to be set aside for 90 minutes come Saturday night as Fandi Ahmad reunites with old friend Zainal Abidin Hassan. Both legends in their own rights, the duo linked up well at Pahang during their playing days and inspired the side to a dream league and Malaysia Cup double in 1992.
It was a year of contrasts for the duo in 2014, but the roles seemed to have reversed this year – with Zainal feeling the pressure in his first full season while Fandi seemed to have gotten his boys to play better as a unit.
Facts and Figures
- It is fairly poised in terms of the head-to-head records between both teams – each team has won four times each, with the extra game ending up in a draw.
- The two sides met in all three domestic competitions last year for a total of five games – the LionsXII won twice, while Pahang edged it three times.
- In four prior visits to Stadium Darul Makmur, the LionsXII have only picked up the win once – with a draw and two losses making up the rest of the numbers.
- Dickson Nwakaeme is still waiting to break his duck in the league this year, although he has two goals to his name in the AFC Cup.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: Time for a win to get the LionsXII back on track. A smash-and-grab 0-3 victory for the visitors.
Gary Koh: 1-1. It will be a tough outing away, but with Pahang yet to convince consistently at home, this is the most likely outcome.
Kenneth Tan: Darul Makmur is always a tough place to go to and I think we could possibly see a fourth successive league draw. 1-1, with Nwakaeme scoring the opener and Amri levelling matters.
The Straits Times' Deepanraj "deepybae" Ganesan: The LionsXII have been defensively sound over their last few games, while Pahang have not scored in their last three league and AFC Cup matches. I think the LionsXII can sneak a 0-1 victory this weekend.
The New Paper's Haiqal Sari: 2-0. Bank on the LionsXII defence to struggle without Afiq, with Nwakaeme battering his way through.
938Live's Noor Farhan: 1-1. Faris Ramli to score.