Match Preview Super League Vs Sri Pahang
The Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations is usually joyous occasion for many, but for the City Boys, it was kind of a muted occasion this time around. The bitterness of our 1-2 away loss to Negeri Sembilan, the week before was all too present, a stark reminder of what we thought we had exorcised with the back to back victories against Melaka Utd and Sabah prior. We were looking to leave the month of April in style, a third victory on the trot in Paroi perhaps, but here we are again left scratching our heads on how it went all wrong that day, despite our early domination, wasted chances, and frail defending in the Jangs goals. A scene all too familiar during the opening matches of the season, when we had, arguably, the toughest calendar amongst all teams in the Super League, at home to Selangor and Johor DT, and sandwiched in between a trip to Kedah DA. A point was all we had to show for those fixtures, but a resurgence followed soon in the confident displays when we bettered the Hang Tuah’s and the Rhinos. And just when we thought we had turned the corner, were back to some soul searching of our credentials. The month of May though, presents us with an opportunity we cannot miss, a road to redemption, a chance to climb the table and set us in good stead for the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup challenge later in June, when we play the bottom three sides in the standings in the next ten days beginning at home tonight against S Pahang, then Penang on Tuesday also in Cheras, and on the 17th to Sarawak Utd. It is Mission Aidilfitri time!
S Pahang made wholesale changes to their squad after a disappointing 2021 campaign, where they often found themselves at the wrong end of the table, only escaping relegation by two points, finishing 10th, and in 2020, it was a case of lower mid-table mediocrity with their 8th position in the single legged season due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking to recapture their 2019 form where they finished runner-up in the Super League, and were semi-finalists in both the FA and Malaysia Cups, they have invested heavily. Former Fiji national team head coach Frenchman Christophe Gamel took over from Dollah Salleh, with the long serving 58 year old moving into a managerial role. The East Coast side only retained a few players, amongst them 23 year old Argentinian import midfielder Manuel Hidalgo, who arrived mid-season last year from Sheffield Wednesday, defender and skipper Muslim Ahmad, Nor Azam Azih, their creative force in midfield, and English Malaysian heritage defender Nicholas Swirad. Amongst those who arrived to fill their foreign quota were defender Johan Martial, a former French youth international coming in from Sochaux, the older brother of Manchester United’s Anthony; strikers Jordanian Mahmoud Salim Zatara and Laotian Billy Ketkeopomphone and Mamadou Samassa, an almost 2 metre behemoth of a goalkeeper from Mali. On the local front, Austro-Malaysian heritage midfielder David Rowley joins from Penang, and some City Boys connection with the entry of leftback Fandi Othman, centreback Wan Amirzafran Wan Nadris as well as midfielder/forward Sean Giannelli. With the natural bid for Lee Tuck and Sergio Aguero in progress, the Elephants are a changed side. As far as season 2022 is concerned, the results though have been more of the same, though luck or rather the lack of it has played quite a devastating role in their journey thus far. Kicking off their league season with a solitary goal defeat at Kedah DA, they were clearly denied victory when two of their goals were wrongly disallowed for offside and crossing the goal line, a fact that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) agrees with. Following that defeat, they were robbed a win again in their 1-1 home draw against Petaling Jaya C, when the Phoenix’s equaliser 5 minutes from should have been disallowed for offside, yet another fact that FAM agrees. A 1-2 home loss to a revitalised Melaka Utd came after, and finally they registered their first win of the season with a 3-1 triumph in Kuantan over bottom placed Penang, a result that forced the Panthers to part with their head coach. Last week, it was back to the dumps for them, when Selangor ran them ragged in a 3-1 win, a match the home side could have won by 5 or 6 goals. Even in the FA Cup first round, they needed the lottery of penalties to see off M3 (third division) side Majung City after a scoreless draw, in a match where Gamel was reported to have said his side created 29 chances to score. Gamel knows he is living on borrowed time with frustration growing amongst their fans and management team for S Pahang poor run of results and they will have to arrest the slide with immediacy. They do have the quality to pull themselves out of the rut, with Hidalgo and Azam often combining well to create problems for opposing defences especially down the left channel, but they have a tendency to let in goals that are created from their left side, and have conceded 4 of their 8 goals, in deadball situations. They also seem to have problems in the second period of the game as 6 of the goals scored against them arrived in the final 45 minutes, perhaps suggesting focus, concentration, fatigue, fitness being issues that Gamel has yet to solve.
With the exception of Azri G., who was allowed to link-up with the national Under-23 squad for the South East Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam, head coach Bojan has almost all his personnel available for this visit of S Pahang. Plenty is expected of the Red & White from the Sampai Mati Kuala Lumpur faithful and we have to be clinical when opportunities arise, to prevent such punishment as experienced in the last outing. It is crucial that the City Boys get things right and stay focused from start to end, so that Mission Aidilfitri can take-off in the best way possible : three points that is!
Saturday’s clash will be the 19th time both teams meet each other since the beginning of the Super League & Premier League divisions in 2004, and the overall head to head record in this period has S Pahang edging us with 8 wins against our six, while 4 matches have ended in draws. Due to contrasting fortunes in the Malaysian League, both sides did not meet each other at lengthy stretches, most noticeably from 2004 to 2009, then again from 2012 to 2015, and also in 2017 and 2020. Last year, we trampled over the Elephants in all our four meets, twice in the Super League, and twice more in the Malaysia Cup group stages. During the latest rendezvous in November 2021 in the run-up to our Malaysia Cup success, Zhafri’s 83rd minute winner was the difference in Kuantan. Earlier, we bested them at home, 3-1 with a brace from Romel following on Daniel Ting’s opener. In the league, it was 2-1 in Cheras, Paulo Josue and again Daniel helping us on, while second half goals from the Romel and Zhafri gave us our only away win last year. The East Coast side last tasted success in Cheras in 2019, when they easily triumphed 3-1, and they held us to a 2-2 draw in same fixture the year before.
Izreen who is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee is still our only player in the treatment room, while Azri G. as indicated above, is away with the national Under-23 team for the 31st SEA Games, at least until the end of the group stages on May 16, 2022.
The Super League Match Day 7 fixture between Kuala Lumpur City and Pahang is on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at 8.15pm (2015hrs), at the Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium, Bandar Tun Razak, Cheras.
Tickets for the Super League match against Pahang are available at the following link, https://www.tickethotline.com.my/
For Season Ticket Holders (B2 City Boys), enjoy direct access for purchase through the Club without the hassle and limitations of the online system (Contact Shamim for details).