Match Preview Super League Vs Penang
The year 1999 was definitely one to remember as the last of the 20th century. It was a year where the term ‘Y2K’ exploded with stories going about the apocalypse of computer systems on New Year ’s Day of the next millennium. The Euro also was launched that year, embraced as the unifying currency throughout western Europe. Sci-fi movie The Matrix premiered that year giving us Keanu Reeves as Neo and Jack Ma founded e-commerce giant Alibaba. On the home front, our most famous landmark, the Petronas Twin Towers, at that time the world’s tallest building or buildings (since there were two of them), swung open its doors for the first time to all visitors. And for the City Boys, it was a year that we last bagged a significant trophy, the FA Cup, before last year’s fairytale success in the Malaysia Cup, but we also managed our highest league finish for a very long time. Fast forward 23 years, it is in our hands now to at least match that achievement of fifth position, though we have an outside chance to land fourth place if other results go our way, but we need to start putting some real effort into that beginning with tomorrow’s brought forward visit to Penang, a place where we have yet to win since the new era of the Super League and Premier League divisions began in 2004.
The unexpected draw to Melaka United threw a spanner in the works for our ambitions to improve on last season’s sixth place. Perhaps the ill effects of all that travelling to Sabah, India, Pahang and then Melaka, finally took its toll at the last stop of our 17,000km voyage in 15 days. Headcoach Bojan was lost for words after the encounter at the Hang Jebat Stadium, a game we dominated but the Hang Tuah’s goalkeeper Norazlan Razali repelled everything thrown at him and when he was finally beaten, Lady Luck chose to side with the Green and Whites that night. Kedah DA were the direct beneficiaries of our charity, seizing fifth position with their 3-1 win over Selangor the day before our trip down south and are now in the driver’s seat to seal that spot, having a point more than us with a match in hand.
Here’s what the updated run-in looks like for us, Kedah DA, Terengganu and Negeri Sembilan.
KLC, currently in 6th, played 18 matches, 26pts, goal difference -3
vs Penang (12th/last), away on 24/9/2022
vs Sarawak Utd. (11th), home on 28/9/2022
vs Terengganu (4th), home on 11/10/2022
vs Petaling Jaya City (10th), away on 15/10/2022
Kedah DA, currently in 5th, played 17 matches, 27pts, goal difference 0
vs Petaling Jaya City (10th), home on 1/10/2022
vs Johor DT (1st), home on 4/10/2022
vs Negeri Sembilan (3rd), away on 7/10/2022
vs Johor DT (1st), away on 11/10/2022
vs Terengganu (4th), home on 15/10/2022
Terengganu, currently in 4th, played 18 matches, 32pts, goal difference +12
vs Sabah (2nd), home on 1/10/2022
vs Melaka Utd. (9th), away on 7/10/2022
vs KLC (5th), away on 11/10/2022
vs Kedah DA (6th), away on 15/10/2022
Negeri Sembilan, currently in 3rd, played 18 matches, 35pts, goal difference +11
vs Johor DT (1st), away on 1/10/2022
vs Kedah DA (6th), home on 7/10/2022
vs Melaka Utd. (9th), home on 11/10/2022
vs Sri Pahang (7th), away on 15/10/2022
Penang have spent the past five months of this season languishing at the bottom of the charts. Just like our two previous opponents, Melaka Utd. and Sri Pahang, the Panthers also undertook a change of their coaching personnel, but instead of settling on the first change where Manzoor Azwira took over as caretaker following their management’s decision to rest Tomas Trucha after 6 matches, he himself went back to the role of assistant when the familiar face of Zainal Abidin Hassan returned for another crack as head coach of the islanders at the start of June 2022. Zainal who was recently bestowed the Datuk-ship title by the Pahang Regent in conjunction with the 63rd birthday of the Sultan of Pahang, had a great start to his second coming with the Blue And Yellow’s, holding unpredictable Petaling Jaya City 1-1 in his first match in charge, then gaining their first win of the season, 2-1 over Terengganu, but that optimism which followed his appointment and those two home results, quickly evaporated when his team fell to loss after loss soon after, beginning with a 0-2 reverse at Selangor then a respectable 0-1 result when Johor DT came calling. Further disappointment followed when the Penangites crashed 1-4 at Melaka Utd and saw Sarawak Utd. eclipse them 3-2 in Georgetown. In Seremban, Negeri Sembilan inflicted the same last minute treatment as the Borneans did. In between, their march in the FA Cup was curtailed at the semi-final stage when they were at the receiving end of a 1-6 thrashing by Johor DT after going through with a 5-2 victory in the last eight over S Pahang in Kuantan two weeks earlier. Pahang got their revenge for the FA Cup defeat when Penang collapsed to their third 3-2 loss while under Zainal’s care, and their misery prevailed in September with away disappointments at the hands of Kedah DA in the Northern derby (0-1) and Terengganu (0-3). In the 12 matches that Zainal has presided thus far, they have only won twice, suffering nine losses and a draw, including eight consecutive defeats in the league, whereas Trucha’s Ill fated reign gave them a win-draw-loss record of 1-3-3, with their solitary triumph coming in the FA Cup First Round when they thrashed Bukit Tambun 4-0. Manzoor’s time as the interim boss only lasted for 3 matches where they lost 2-3 to us in Cheras and 2-4 at home to Sabah on either side of a 4-1 FA Cup Second Round success in Perak. When Zainal took over, he mentioned that Penang had goals in them and among the key challenges, he would be seeking to address their leaky defence. While he has improved their goals conceded to 2.20 per game from Manzoor’s 3.50, he remains far from Trucha’s average of 1.50. Similarly in the goals for department, he has bettered Trucha’s statistics of 0.83 per game to 1.00, but remains far from Manzoor’s cavalier approach of 2 goals in each game. On the balance of their statistics, Trucha’s haul of 3 points from 6 games remains slightly better than Zainal’s 4 from 10, begging the actual reason for Trucha’s removal, though it would be detrimental for another coaching reshuffle at this point in the season, more so when Zainal has also been blighted by the same injury issues to key import players that derailed Trucha. Furthermore, the Panthers have no relegation worries due to the change of the Malaysian League format next season and this should provide Zainal some breathing space in assembling a squad that could replicate Trucha’s third place finish for Penang in 2021. They regularly find the back of the net, and at home in the league, only Johor DT have prevented them from scoring, while on the road the are equally formidable except at the home of the champions, vs Selangor and only recently when they suffered shut-out’s at Kedah DA and Terengganu. Versatile forward Lebanese Hilal El-Helwe is their biggest goal threat with 9 goals this season, followed with 7 goals from Brazilian striker Lucas Espindola da Silva, who came in during the first in-season transfer window in June replacing fellow countryman Casagrande (Anselmo Arruda da Silva) who only managed 2 goals this term. Pacey flanker Saravanan Thirumurugan has contributed with 4 goals and the lively Daniel Ashraf joins Samba nation defender Rafael Vitor Santos, in matching Casagrande’s total. At the back, as stated before, their defence is very charitable, with only a single clean sheet in 2022, achieved in the win over third level (M3) side Bukit Tambun. The last five league fixtures saw them concede 13 goals in defeats to Terengganu, Kedah DA, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Sarawak at an average of 2.6 goals per game, skewing Zainal’s stats for the parameter.
There is still plenty to play for in the closing stages of the Super League and a few results here and there could change the entire outlook of the table from second to eight. Looking at the final run-in for Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur City, on paper if things go our way, we still have an outside chance to end the season in fourth, though fifth is more likely. However, we got to realise that no team, no matter what position in the league or in the cups, will roll over and die to grant us easy wins. We have to fight to earn our keep! The results at present may not be with Penang, but when at full strength including their foreign cast, they are a dangerous side that can do the damage upfront especially if we fail to pull up our socks in this encounter. We must not forget that they are after all, the team that surprised all and sundry last year with their brand of football only to be denied an AFC Cup appearance this season due to our victorious Malaysia Cup campaign. Similarly to Melaka Utd.’s advantage against us in our last challenge, the northerners welcome us being the fresher of the two, having had an extra day of recovery after their 0-3 away loss to Terengganu.
Due to contrasting fortunes in the Malaysian League, we did not see each other in 11 of the 18 seasons since the new era began, in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 to 2014, 2016 to 2018. Saturday’s clash will be the 16th time both teams meet each other since the beginning of the Super League & Premier League divisions in 2004, and the City Boys edge the overall head to head record with 7 wins against the Panthers’ 5, while 3 matches have ended in ties. In the previous 8 visits to Penang in that period, we only won once during the 2019 FA Cup Third Round; 4-2 with a brace from Guilherme de Paula and earlier goals from Zaiful Hakim and Irfan Zakaria. In other meets, we drew thrice and lost on four occasions. Last year, we faced them four times, twice coming out tops in Cheras; Paulo Josue’s hattrick against the northerners buried them 3-1 in the league, avenging Penang’s 1-0 win on the first day of the season, and Romel got us the points during the Malaysia Cup group stages, a penalty winner at home for 1-0, and before that, some last action heroics to rescue a point for a 1-1 draw in Georgetown. Last May in Cheras, goals from Partiban, Romel and Zhafri set us heading for a huge victory, only for the northerners to scare us with two quickfire goals in the final ten minutes of the game via Endrick dos Santos’ penalty and Hilal El-Helwe’s strike, but we did just enough to hang on for the 3-2 win.
Nabil & Izreen, are definitely out, both still recovering from anterior cruciate ligament injuries in their knees, while Zhafri and Declan are away in Chiang Mai with the national team for the 48th Thai King’s Cup after Harimau Malaya head coach Kim Pang Gon did not accede to Bojan’s request. Safee is also a suspect with a problem in his thigh.
The Super League Match Day 19 fixture between Penang and Kuala Lumpur City is on Saturday, September 24, 2022, at 9PM (2100hrs) at the City Stadium, Georgetown.
Tickets for the Super League match against Penang 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).