Match Preview Super League Vs Sabah FC
After a successful August that ended with Kuala Lumpur City being crowned as the AFC Cup 2022 South East Asian champions following our emphatic 5-2 win over Indonesia’s PSM Makassar in the zonal final last week, the City Boys face a gruelling calendar in the month of September, with four fixtures, all of them on the road within the first 15 days of the new month. Firstly we go to Sabah, then on the 7th, the next port of call is Kolkata, India for the Inter Zone semi-final against ATK Mohun Bagan, and upon our return from continental duty, Pahang & Melaka Utd. welcome us in quick succession on the 11th and 15th, before the window for the international break takes effect from September 19-27, 2022. Such is the lopsided programming of the fixtures that we would need all hands of our small squad on deck to manage this toughest stretch of matches since this season began, almost matching the jam packed opening month of the year in March, when we visited Johor DT in the Charity Cup, Kedah DA and in between played host to Selangor and then Langkawi City in the FA Cup First Round.
Confidence in the squad is at an all-time high this year with the successes in the AFC Cup and the Super League home wins against Kedah DA and Negeri Sembilan, have injected plenty of belief into head coach Bojan’s squad, despite the mauling received at Johor DT at the start of the past month, all but forgotten. The defence is beginning to look the part that propelled us to the Malaysia Cup triumph in 2021, conceding only 8 goals in the past 10 matches (with the exception of the Johor DT result) including 4 clean sheets (though Bojan would surely be furious for the 5 minutes of madness that saw us let in two goals to the Indonesians), and there seems to be plenty of positives when going for goal, most notably the triumvirate of Romel, Jordan and Paulo Josue combining to devastating effect in picking apart the PSM Makassar rearguard to score five goals last week, the most we have done in a single match since the 8-0 victory against M3 side (third division) Langkawi C. The trio have also been involved in providing 11 of the last 12 goals gained by the City Boys in the past 9 matches. The Red & White have also returned to dominance at our home ground in Cheras, and have remained unbeaten with five wins and two draws since the unexpected 1-2 defeat to Pahang in early May, only our second loss at home after going down 0-3 to Johor DT, a month earlier. While our away record does not come close to matching the home results, there remains plenty of positives for us to be satisfied about, amongst them the battling win at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) vs Viettel, and letting Selangor off the hook with a 1-1 draw when victory was almost certain in Kelana Jaya. Character wise, we seem to be ticking the boxes too, refusing to be beaten during that Selangor encounter, and the come from behind conquest during the visit of Kedah DA, and earlier in Kuching vs Sarawak Utd.
Sabah are quite the revelation in 2022, together with promoted Negeri Sembilan. Before we played them in mid-April, they were second in the standings after 4 rounds of league fixtures, and now 12 matches later, they are still second, six points off leaders Johor DT, having played a match more. While it may seem disrespectful to be surprised at their achievements this season considering the investments they poured into the squad and coaching staff, most notably the Peninsular invasion that brought in Baddrol Bakhtiar, Rizal Ghazali, N. Thanabalan, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Gary Steven Robbat, Dominic Tan, Irfan Fazail and Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, pre-season fortune tellers (read pundits and so called football experts) had them finishing at the mid-table position. They have 6 matches to go to the completion of the league, with 18 points to play for, but boy do they have quite a lead of 13 points over us in sixth (the exact position in the middle of the Super League standings). Ong Kim Swee & Co. have done an excellent job to mould the crash of Rhinos into an excellent unit that has captured the imagination of the Sabahans. Likas Stadium is a cauldron that is constantly filled to the brim when the biggest of teams come visiting, and this arena has only seen them collapse only twice at home; a deep into injury time winner for Johor DT in the middle of July, and the season opening reverse to Negeri Sembilan; while victorious in the other 6 matches played at home to be second in the home charts. Their away form is as terrifying, a 2-0 loss to us was the only blip they suffered with 5 wins and 2 draws on their travels. They are in a rich vein of form currently, notching 4 successive three-pointers in the league over Terengganu, PJ City, Melaka Utd. and Sarawak Utd., before being held in Alor Setar to Kedah, two weeks ago. Averaging the league’s second highest average of 1.625 goals scored per game and the second lowest average of 0.875 goals conceded per game, they possess the ability see out victories without the need of scoring too many in a game, with eight of their 11 wins in the league, by a one goal margins (1-0, 4 times; 2-1, 4 times), suggesting a balanced team that truly deserves to occupy the runner-up position. Defender Park Tae-Soo from South Korea is the primary goal getter, with 6 goals in 5 games to his name, while veteran striker Amri Yahyah is an able substitute to shake things up despite his age, with 5 goals. Indonesian Saddil Ramdani is a threat from dead ball situations around the box, as is playmaker Badrol.
Head coach Bojan has almost all hands on deck for our second trip to Borneo this year. However, with one eye on the big game in India next Wednesday, he will be keen to avoid any injuries to key players who he will need to be up and ready for the battle against ATK Mohun Bagan, while providing some rest and recovery for them. How this translates to his line-up remains to be seen. He is well aware that Sabah will be fresher after not being in action since the middle of August and will be backed by a vocal home support in the thousands as they look to narrow the gap on the leaders. The City Boys also welcome Kenny’s return from the 2 month ban/suspension imposed by the Football Association of Malaysia for reasons best left unspoken here, and Partiban, who just returned to the side as an injury time substitute during the PSM Makassar game following a lengthy lay-off due to injury, should also have some playing time as the coaches run him through his paces to regain match fitness. Fakrul and Muhammad are also on the mend, and should also feature at some point of the game, having last played in the 2-1 win over Kedah DA at home. Again this is another tough match, and we know the Indians will be watching, so really, it depends on how much of his cards that Bojan wants to show, while at the same time gain a respectable outcome that keeps our ambition of improving on last year’s sixth place finish within range, a position which we are currently tied with a resurgent Pahang. One thing we have failed this year is to start any new month with three points in the bag : March was a 3-3 home draw with Selangor, April was a 0-3 home loss against Johor DT, May was a 1-2 reverse at home to Pahang, June we fell 0-2 away in Terengganu, July was the 0-1 FA Cup exit at hands of Selangor in Kelana Jaya, and finally August was a bleak day in Johor Bahru. Let us hope Bojan, who was the National Under-19 coach from 2017 to 2019, once again gets the better of his former FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) colleague Ong.
This mid-week clash will be the 31st time both teams will be meeting each other since the beginning of the Super League & Premier League divisions in 2004. The City Boys just shade the overall head to head record with 12 wins over the The Rhinos’ 10, with 8 matches ending in draws. Due to contrasting fortunes, both sides did not meet each other from 2017 to 2019, but we have not lost to Sabah in the past 7 meetings since 2016, winning 4 of those, while Sabah’s last win over us came in 2015 in the Premier League, where they did the double over us that year, winning 2-0 in the afternoon heat at Stadium Merdeka, and 1-0 away. Earlier this season in Cheras, we beat them 2-0, with a goal in each half from Romel, who opened his accounts for the year then. Last year in Likas, Levy Madinda’s 66th minute superbly struck freekick rescued them a point after Randy Baruh’s own goal from Hadin’s pressure, midway through the first half gave us the lead.
Nabil, who is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee, remains the only player with a serious injury, but Romel will be missing too after picking up a knock during the match vs PSM Makassar, and this development may force some tactical and personnel adjustments. Kenny, despite returning from his ban, is yet to be 100% after pulling up his hamstring in Vietnam.
The Super League Match Day 16 fixture between Sabah and Kuala Lumpur City is on is on Thursday, September 1, 2022, at 7.30PM (1930hrs), at the Likas Sports Complex, Kota Kinabalu.
Tickets for the Super League match against Sabah 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).