SHORT-HANDED KUALA LUMPUR REACH SUPER LEAGUE HALFWAY STAGE WITH BATTLING DRAW
Even with a host of players unavailable for various reasons, Kuala Lumpur City produced a cleansheet to hold Petaling Jaya City 0-0 in Cheras on Saturday to reach the halfway stage of the Super League in a better position than last season.
After 11 games, Kuala Lumpur are in sixth place with 14 points which is one spot and one point better than at the same stage of the 2021 Super League season.
It has been a tough road getting to this point after battling fitness issues from the start of the season with one player or another missing at various times.
After conceding nine goals in the first three games of the Super League season, Kuala Lumpur have since conceded nine goals in the next eight games while keeping three cleansheets.
While disappointed not to have taken full advantage of playing on home ground, the City Boys can still be proud of the effort they put in for an important point with six key players unavailable.
Captain Paulo Josue, Ryan Lambert, J. Partiban and Kenny Pallraj were sidelined through injury while Akram Mahinan and right-back Kamal Azizi Zabri served a one-game suspension. Additionally, striker Haqimi Azim Rosli was away with the national Under-19 team in Jakarta while reserve left-back Nabil Hakim Bokhari’s season was over because of an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
This meant coach Bojan Hodak had to reorganise his team, especially the midfield, with Arif Shaqirin Suhaimi getting his first Super League start this season as did Fakrul Aiman Sidid on the right wing. Zhafri Yahya moved into the centre of midfield to allow Romel Morales to operate as the playmaker in Josue’s absence. Declan Lambert took over Kamal’s position at right-back.
The bench featured several unfamiliar names including three players from the Under-21 President’s Cup team.
PJ City had not won for eight matches in the league but posed a serious threat despite fielding an all-local line-up with their strikeforce led by national team forward Darren Lok.
There was little by way of action in the first half with Fakrul Aiman going closest to scoring after somehow missing the target from an enticing low cross into the six-yard box from Hadin Azman.
Striker Jordan Mintah, making his home debut for Kuala Lumpur, floated a header to PJ City goalkeeper Kalamullah Al Hafiz Mat Rowi while Kuala Lumpur custodian Kevin Mendoza, making his 33rd consecutive Super League appearance, was largely untested in the first 45 minutes.
Kuala Lumpur did suffer a minor scare when a back-header by Irfan Zakaria went past Mendoza but Giancarlo Gallifuoco ensured there was no damage done when he slid in to steer the ball away from goal.
Kuala Lumpur began the second half with more purpose as Hadin went close twice with free-kicks, the second time his effort shaving the post while in between, Mendoza tipped over an S. Kumaahran shot.
In the 55th minute, Kuala Lumpur were presented with the best chance of a goal when Morales played the perfect through pass to Mintah, who held off his marker to fire at goal only to see the ball strike the side-netting.
Mendoza continued to remain on alert as he held on to V. Ruventhiran’s drive as the visitors began to make inroads into the Kuala Lumpur half before Aiman squandered another opportunity through a poor touch at point-blank range when he miscontrolled Hadin’s floater into the box.
With few options on the bench, Hodak threw on Ridhwan Nazri and Under-21 winger Iman Fakrullah Zamri for their senior team debut before Under-21 defender Ilham Syukri also made his maiden first-team appearance when replacing Muhammad.
Muhammad, making his second consecutive start, impressed alongside Giancarlo Gallifuoco by largely keeping Lok out of the game.
Kuala Lumpur City v Petaling Jaya City: 1 Mendoza (GK), 12 Declan (40 Ilham 90’+3), 33 Muhammad (41 Iman Fakrullah 85′), 9 Gallifuoco, 17 Irfan, 29 Arif Shaqirin (88 Ridhwan 85′), 8 Zhafri, 27 Hadin, 30 Fakrul Aiman (25 Anwar 80′), 7 Morales, 82 Mintah
Subs Not Used: 44 Azri (GK), 5 Nik Shahrul, 10 Safee, 22 Nik Umar, 42 Nadzwin
Referees: Amirul Izwan Yaacob; Assistant 1: Muazi Zainal Abidin; Assistant 2: Shafiq Salji; Fourth official: Abdul Rahman Wahab
OUR HERO OF THE MATCH: MUHAMMAD MUHD FAUDZI
“I have to thank my teammates for helping in keeping the PJ City forwards at bay. Even though they don’t have any import players, that did not make our jobs easier.
“We talked before the game about not giving the PJ City forwards room to operate, especially Darren Lok, who can be very dangerous shooting with both feet. We are proud to get the cleansheet.”