Match Preview Super League Vs Sri Pahang
Kuala Lumpur City are living a dreamy September so far. We began the month with a commendable 2-2 draw against high flying Sabah at their backyard, although we were only 5 minutes or so away from a famous victory in Likas, and on Wednesday night, yet another huge achievement was recorded into the story book of the City Boys when we made it into the AFC Cup 2022 Eastern Region Final after a 3-1 win over ATK Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, India. Headcoach Bojan must be smiling from ear to ear in the manner that recent triumph was achieved; staring at the possibility of an additional 30 minutes of extra time following the Mariners’ equaliser in the final minute of regulation time, the Red And White did not fall into despair or panic, instead we found that gear : BELIEVE once again, to score two goals in injury time through substitutes Fakrul and Romel, adding to skipper Paulo Josue’s opener on the hour mark, to upset the hosts who largely dominated possession throughout the match.
Despite the challenges and obstacles that Bojan’s squad faced during their passage to India, firstly with the journey back from the furthest part of the country (Sabah), then rush for the application and issuance of the travel visa to India at their High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, then hit by the inability to obtain a direct flight to Kolkata, forcing the team to be stranded for long hours in transit, only arriving in the West Bengal state capital just two days before the penultimate AFC Cup 2022 Eastern Region decider, the squad remained focused on the task at hand, offering no excuses for whatever difficulties they went through and displayed plenty of mental strength that augurs well for the technical team. Partly quoting from G. Michael Hopf’s postapocalyptic novel Those Who Remain, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times”, and the City Boys have been creating good times per se with our results of late. It is this character, this believe, this unity, amongst the unmistakable traits that led to the Malaysia Cup success in 2021, and it as has also seen us go on an unbeaten run in the past 5 matches; with the exception of the result at Johor DT, we have not lost in the league this year since the 0-2 reverse against Terengganu away from home in mid-June. Due to concerns of Romel’s fitness, Bojan opted to rest the Colombian from starting the past two fixtures, thus breaking the triumvirate attacking trident consisting of Romel, Paulo Josue and Jordan, the trio that contributed 11 of our 12 goals pre-Sabah, and the squad responded in a big manner with goals from defensive players, Gallifuoco and Akram against the Rhinos. In India, Fakrul did the job, effectively delivering the winner in between Paulo Josue’s and Romel’s strikes. Many teams pray for a top goalkeeper within their ranks, to do the impossible with Gordon Bank’s like saves, and we are blessed with two of the finest shot stoppers in the form of Mendoza and Azri G. Since that Terengganu defeat, our defence has been holding up rather well too, conceding only 9 goals in 11 matches (with the exception of the Johor DT result) including 4 clean sheets, though it has been 3 matches since we last had a clean slate at the back. Sabah’s opener and Mogun Bagan’s goal are defensive lapses that we will need to iron out of our game for us to preserve leads when we go in front, convert draws to victories and rescue defeats into draws. Our catenaccio like approach implies a highly organised and effective backline defence focused on nullifying opponents’ attacks and preventing goal-scoring opportunities, and every member of our small squad needs to understand their role in this, stand up and be counted, be involved and be responsible in keeping to the tactical plan, in our quest to end this season strongly before we begin our defence of the Malaysia Cup.
The S Pahang we lost to earlier in the season is now a different beast altogether. Looking at the domestic form chart in the past 5 matches, the East Coast side sits fourth, only behind Johor DT, Negeri Sembilan and Terengganu, and this turnaround began when Dollah Salleh returned to the fore in helming the Elephants fortunes on the pitch. Previously the 58-year old was into a managerial role there but since Christophe Gamel’s resignation, he has led a revival of sorts that saw them go as high as 5th in the standings. Beginning with an overhaul of their foreign imports during the first in-season transfer window, Dollah oversaw the replacement of Jordanian Mahmoud Za’tara, Billy Ketkeophompone from Laos and Anthony Martial’s brother Johan of France with Colombian Steven Rodriguez, Kevin Ingreso from the Philippines and and Sherzod Fayziev of Uzbekistan, retaining only goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa of Mali and Argentinian playmaker Manuel Hidalgo. The Malaysian legion within S Pahang are extremely hardworking, led by exemplary figures such as skipper Muslim Ahmad and English Malaysian Nicholas Swirad in defence, and in midfield Austro-Malaysian David Rowley and Nor Azam Azih as a co-creator that is extremely deadly from long distance. Apart from Fandi, some other City Boys connection lays in the form of leftback Fandi Othman, centreback Wan Amirzafran Wan Nadris as well as midfielder/forward Sean Giannelli. They are also at liberty to call upon Lee Tuck, who recently was naturalised as a Malaysian, though he may be severely lacking in match fitness. Dollah began his third stint as head coach of the Elephants with an unexpected 2-5 loss to Penang in the FA Cup Quarter-Final, then led them to a 3 match winning streak in the league without conceding a goal in victories over Selangor, Kedah DA and Petaling Jaya City, despite saying he was no magician. They were staring at the jaws of defeat in Melaka United, going two goals with 3 minutes left on the clock, but fought back to force an unlikely draw, striking twice in the closing minutes of play. Revenge against the Panthers was gained when they returned to the winning trail with a 3-2 result in Georgetown before succumbing at home to Terengganu, 1-2, their first defeat in the league under the current reign of the former national coach. Averaging the league’s fourth highest average of 1.53 goals scored, they possess the same average in letting in goals. However, since the transition to Dollah, that average has gone to 2.33 goals for vs 1.16 goals against (14 goals scored, 7 goals conceded, in 6 league matches). In the league, Hidalgo is their primary goal getter with 7 goals, mostly from spotkicks, but Rodiriguez has provided a steady flow of goals since he came in, with his name appearing 6 times on the scoresheet. Nor Azam, Rowley and Malik Ariff also figure regularly amongst S Pahang’s scorers. Currently a point behind us, in their 10 matches in Kuantan this season, S Pahang have a WDL record of 4-2-4 including in the FA Cup, and this includes a 2-0-2 record under Dollah. Considering the changes they have made in foreign playing personnel and reorganization of the technical team as well as the progress made under Dollah’s supervision, S Pahang look like a strong bet to challenge a host of teams for that fifth spot in the Super League table and launch a strong case for the Malaysia Cup this season.
Fatigue may proof to be the City Boys undoing following two exhausting journeys to Borneo and India, and this may play heavily in Bojan’s plans for tonight. Does he field the same regular personnel or can he count on those not so often used to shoulder the burden? After all, S Pahang are no pushovers, they were the first team this season to hold the mighty Johoreans to a draw, a result that only delayed the inevitable for Gamel. Bojan’s also has to think of the fixture next week on Thursday vs Melaka United, though he surely is aware of the chasing pack who are all in touch with the City Boys, and one or two results could make the table look so different from what it is now. S Pahang will have the advantage as they are fresher of the two, having last played a competitive fixture 3 weeks ago, which Dollah would have used well to implement his ideas across the changing room. They are also playing at home and will be looking to do the double over the City Boys for the first time since 2019, the year the City Boys were relegated to the Premier League.
Sunday’s clash will be the 20th 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 9 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. In May this year, just a few days after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the Elephants condemned us to our second defeat in Cheras this season, winning 2-1 with goals from Nor Azam Azih’s world class effort from a freekick in the first half and Manuel Hidalgo’s 78th minute penalty, that saw them cruise to victory despite Paulo Josue’s late strike to narrow the deficit after Malian goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa’s error. Last year in Kuantan, we beat them in the league, winning 2-0 through second half strikes from Romel and Zhafri, and repeated that success in the Malaysia Cup group stage, Zhafri again scoring, this time with a winner, 7 minutes from time.
Nabil, who is recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee, remains the only player with a serious injury, but Nik Shahrul and Safee are also out of the reckoning for this match after picking up some knocks this week during training. Nik Umar and Azim are also unavailable as they have been called up to Kuala Lumpur’s squad for the 20th Malaysia Games (SUKMA) beginning Monday, September 12, 2022.
The Super League Match Day 18 fixture between Sri Pahang and Kuala Lumpur City is on Sunday, September 11, 2022, at 8.15PM (2015hrs) at the Darulmakmur Stadium, Kuantan.
Tickets for the Super League match against Sri 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) – NOT AVAILABLE FOR THIS MATCH!