DEZ CORKHILL is:
STORY OF THE SEASON – (PART 3)
FIVE DRAWS IN A ROW: THE DIFFICULTIES OF HAVING TO RELY “PLAN B”
24th July 2021
Kyrian Nwabueze’s signing from the Albanian League during the MSL transfer window which was extended due to Covid-19 seemed to be a great boost for Bojan Hodak’s team. The American’s transfer was designed to solve the “main striker” problem that had hampered Kuala Lumpur City since Dominic da Sylva’s injury, as well as releasing Romel Morales to have a bit more freedom to show the creative talents he was bought for.
Overall, it was deemed to be a “good” transfer window for Kuala Lumpur City. In addition to Nwabueze, the combative Kenny Pal Raj and highly regarded J Partiban joined the club from financially-strapped Perak, and some more impressively effective behind-the-scenes negotiations saw the arrival of the neat-and-tidy PSV Eindhoven-trained Malaysia-eligible midfielder Ryan Lambert.
KUALA LUMPUR CITY 1 VS SELANGOR 1
The physically imposing Nwabueze made his much-anticipated debut against local rivals Selangor at Cheras.
As a replacement for the unfortunate Dominic da Sylva the comparisons were striking. Both powerful, right footed strikers with an eye for goal and a physique robust enough to upset burly central defenders – all this allied to blistering pace and an eye for goal.
In other team news, Bojan Hodak was missing the impeccable Akram Mahinan in midfield but Kenny Pal Raj came in as a more-than-adequate debutant replacement, whilst J Partiban took Indra Putra’s place as a wide attacker. What could possibly go wrong? For 41 minutes it looked so rosy for Kuala Lumpur. A goal to the good thanks to a Paulo Josue special, and with Nwabueze settling in nicely it seemed as though Kuala Lumpur City were in cruise control.
But football can turn in a minute. The Red Giants had been denied an equalizer by the cross-bar but maintained their pressure and clawed back their 1-goal deficit through a scrappy Oliver Buff goal. And maybe we should have been concerned that Nwabueze had selected no 13 for his squad number because bad luck was about to strike Kuala Lumpur City’s tactical plans.
Josue released Nwabueze with a lovely through ball and the 6-foot forward was racing through with frizzy-haired defender Sharul Nazeem in desperate pursuit. As he pulled his left foot back to shoot, Nwabueze was forced off balance by a desperate challenge from Selangor’s young central defender. The shot was saved, but worryingly, the striker’s left leg hyper-extended on impact and as he bounced unnaturally into the air before crumpling onto the floor it was immediately clear that a much-anticipated debut was over.
And so was his season when an MRI scan a couple of days later confirmed the severity of the injury. A point won but at a great cost.
27th July 2021
In these times of the Covid-19 Health Crisis there are multiple phrases that we were having to get used to. Players were held in “Bubbles” to ensure Covid-19 couldn’t be caught or be spread; “sanitization”, “safe-distancing” and “masking” were all part of what was termed the “New Normal”. A different kind of “New Normal” was also emerging for Kuala Lumpur City Football Club.
Kuala Lumpur City’s performances in the first 13 games of the season, the resilience and organizational discipline imposed by Bojan Hodak, an unbeaten home record added to some impressive new transfer-window recruits to bolster an already decent squad had raised one or two eyebrows amongst their Super League opponents.
THIS Kuala Lumpur seemed very different to the one that has been considered a push-over for the previous 20-years, but that meant that teams facing The City Boys would raise their game accordingly.
PERAK 0 VS KUALA LUMPUR CITY 0
Hadin Azman was the beneficiary of Kyrian Nwabueze’s injury as the KL-born winger returned to the starting line-up having come on in the 2nd half against Selangor. J Partiban and Kenny Pal Raj retained their places against the former employers who, remember, had another former KL servant, Chong Yee Fatt, trying to guide a penniless ship through troubled times.
It was clear from the start that Perak were both invigorated by the challenge of ensuring that pal Raj and Partiban would not take home any bragging rights from this game, and also from the professional embarrassment of conceding 5 in their previous outing against Terengganu. In a dour contest Kuala Lumpur City – having spent several weeks training to integrate Nwabueze into the team suddenly had to revert back to plan B with Morales reluctantly, but with real application, leading the line.
Despite some pretty build up play Kuala Lumpur City too-often foundered on the edge of the penalty area, and whilst Ghani in the Perak goal had one excellent save to make from hadin, The Bos Gaurus held on for a morale-boosting goalless draw. There was frustration bubbling just beneath the surface in Bojan Hodak’s post-match TV interview.
31st July 2021
There are many, many attributes that contribute to the making of a “successful” club. One that this correspondent receives far less attention than it should is the need for a club to have a Local heart – staff and players who have an affinity with the club, its history and have its best interests at heart. Without that “heart” players and personnel can often appear to be mercenary.
The 2021 Kuala Lumpur City had several players who have a close affinity with the club. Zhafri Yahyah has seen highs and lows since he signed in 2016 but plays with his heart-on-his sleeve in every match. Irfan Zakaria’s welcome return “home” from Kedah allied to Hadin Azman at last playing for his home city team all helped that local feeling whilst Brazilian midfielder Paulo Josue has earned the right to be an honourary KL’ite in his 5th season with the City Boys.
On the Coaching staff, the likes of Rosle Mohd Derus have become part of the back-team furniture and the outpouring of best wishes and emotion that followed news of Rosle collapsing (now, thankfully, recovered) on the KL training ground suggested that the affinity in the city for the “Old Boys” still exists. And with KLFA General Secretary Nozman Mustaffa fully supportive of new CEO and former Kuala Lumpur player, Stanley Bernard, there are signs of that “local heart” growing at Cheras Stadium.
KUALA LUMPUR CITY 1 VS MELAKA 1
Irfan, Hadin, honourary PR Paulo Josue and Zhafri Yahyah were all in the starting XI for a visit of the Melaka to the Cheras Stadium to give credence to the value the Coach has regarding the local heart in the KL team. The sense of frustration from the loss at Hang Jebat earlier in the season was still simmering in the Kuala Lumpur City camp, and that explained a really enterprising and productive opening 45 minutes for Bojan Hodak’s charges. But no goals.
A KL produced goal ended the deadlock when Hadin crossed for Zhafri to head home his second goal of the season, and Kuala Lumpur City had the chances to add to that lead but came up against a very good Khairul Fahmi performance. And you know the danger of a 1-0 lead? In 9th (yes, 9th) minute of injury time, a needless free-kick was conceded on the Kuala Lumpur City right. Sonny Norde fizzed in a cross which saw Jang, Suk Won connect for another dis-spiriting injury time concession.
Morale-sapping. But if there are positive points to take it included the fact Kuala Lumpur City were dominant for most of the game. But that local spirit will be needed to help get over the loss of MORE points to an injury time goal !!!
4th August 2021
An analysis of the “type” of the 19 goals Kuala Lumpur City had scored in the first 16 matches of the season showed that only three had been scored from inside the 6-yard box. Coaching studies have shown that so-called “Scrappy” or “ugly” goals statistically normally account for 60% of a teams’ goals; Kuala Lumpur City were scoring a lot of “pretty” goals, but not enough ugly ones. The absence of a goal-hungry main striker was having a negative impact on Kuala Lumpur City’s scoring rate as demonstrated by bald statistics. The answer? Get into the 6-yard box and score more “ugly” goals.
SABAH 1 VS KUALA LUMPUR CITY 1
For all the positives that could be taken from the season to date, Kuala Lumpur City went into August without a win away from Cheras Stadium since September 2020 – a run stretching 10 matches in all competitions. Irfan Zakaria missed his first match of the season as the dependable Nik Shahrul came into partner Gallifuoco at centre back. No other changes in the starting XI with Akram Mahinan and Ryan Lambert combining in the heart of midfield for the second straight game, and Hadin Azman slowly beginning to exert more influence on the team after a slow start to his KL career maintaining his position wide on the left.
Just before half time, Hadin was challenging in the 6-yard area for a Zhafri Yahyah cross. And while the final touch came from a Sabah defender, when the ball crossed the line, it was the kind of “ugly” goal that Kuala Lumpur City hadn’t been converting in the season to date. Paulo Josue was centre metres away from scoring a gem of a second, but a Kuala Lumpur City took a deserved lead into the break.
Veteran striker, Amri Yahyah, was a real threat for Sabah as the home team wrested control of the match in the second half as the travel and fourth game in 11 days seemed to sap the energy from KL. Sabah deserved their equalizer courtesy a fabulous Levy Madinda free-kick.
A fifth draw in a row for Bojan’s team, but this time a point that they are happy to take home. A Post-Script from the match was that Hadin Azman picked up a knock that would rule him out for the rest of the League season.
To be continued…. PART 4