LionsXII target 10 points from last four games
Fandi's men go to JDT's Larkin fortress eyeing a positive result
JOHOR DARUL TA'ZIM v LIONSXII (Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25 MHz)
Considering the fact that leaders Johor Darul Ta'zim have been on a 37-match unbeaten home run in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) since April 2012, and how they have won all nine home games this season, visiting teams will almost always be happy if they leave Larkin with a point.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is no different.
The Singapore outfit, lying seventh in the standings, have four matches to go in this year's MSL campaign, starting tonight with a visit to Larkin Stadium.
With a top-four finish in sight - just two points separate fourth-placed Selangor from eighth-placed Perak, the 53-year-old wants his team to come out of the hectic schedule with 10 points.
Before leaving for Johor Baru yesterday, he told The New Paper: "We have to win our home games against Selangor (on Saturday) and Sime Darby (Saturday week).
"Our away form is not great, but we have to believe we can beat Sarawak in Kuching (next Wednesday) and at least get a point against a very strong JDT side tomorrow.
"We are seventh now and I believe we have to win three matches for us to secure a top-four finish because our goal difference of +3 is not that good, so we have to go ahead on points.
"It is not an easy target, but we have the ability to achieve it."
The LionsXII will be buoyed by the superb performance that helped them beat title contenders Pahang 4-2 at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Saturday, but they will also do well to remember their defensive frailties on the road.
They lost 4-0 to Selangor, 4-2 to Terengganu and 3-2 to Pahang, and goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and centre back Madhu Mohana believe they have learnt their lesson.
"Most teams have the advantage at home because they are used to their own pitch, their fan support, and they don't have to travel," said 25-year-old skipper Izwan.
"We will have to adapt as fast as we can and focus on playing our own game for the full 90 minutes despite the fiery atmosphere.
"We aim for a clean sheet in every match, and if we can accomplish that, we always have a chance to win because we have been scoring many goals in recent matches."
Matches between the LionsXII and JDT have always been tight encounters, although the Malaysian club have a slight edge, winning two out of seven previous MSL encounters and losing just one.
But the LionsXII were the last team to beat JDT (then Johor FC) on their home patch and Madhu, who has scored in his last two matches, said: "Records are meant to be broken. People were talking about Pahang's 12-match unbeaten run, but we beat them.
"We are eager to play and we have to go to Johor with confidence. We got two 2-2 draws there in the last two seasons, so we should feel positive about going there to get a good result again.
"The key to improving our away form is to stop conceding early goals and make things difficult for ourselves, which we did in some of our games recently.
"If we can start well, keep things tight for the first 20 minutes, we will be able to settle down and execute our game plan, instead of chasing the game."
With chief striker Khairul Amri still out with a calf injury, Fandi is expected to stick with the same starting 11 from the win over Pahang,
"We will miss Amri, but I'm happy we have players chipping in goals from all departments," said Fandi.
"Even the defenders are scoring, and it is a good thing when I say we don't know where our next goal is going to come from because it could come from any player, not just the strikers."
PROBABLE LIONS XII LINE-UP
Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Zulfahmi Arifin, Safuwan Baharudin, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Khairul Nizam, Faris Ramli.
Hariss close to a personal milestone
- TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG & BENJAMIN SEETOR
Even as the LionsXII bask in the glory of winning their first Malaysian FA Cup and continue their pursuit of a top-four finish in the league, another Singapore footballer is chasing a place in history.
If Malaysian Super League (MSL) leaders Johor Darul Ta'zim successfully defend their crown, Singapore midfield star Hariss Harun(photo) would have the distinction of winning three titles in a row.
Hariss was a key figure when the LionsXII lifted the MSL title in 2013, and tasted success again in his first season at JDT last year.
Tonight, he will be battling many familiar faces when his JDT side entertain the LionsXII in a mouth-watering encounter at Larkin Stadium and, speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 24-year-old said: "Every footballer wants to be up there challenging for the title and I am no different.
"It is in our hands to defend our title and it would be a great honour to make it a personal hat-trick and I want to help the team get the job done."
With JDT holding only a one-point lead over Pahang at the MSL summit, his old club could well play a major role in the destiny of this season's title.
Hariss is not expecting any favours from his friends and national team-mates.
"With just four games left, every match is like a final for us and the LionsXII will want the three points badly because they want to finish in the top four to be seeded for the Malaysia Cup," he said.
"There will definitely be mixed feelings going up against my friends and former teammates. It is never easy to play the LionsXII and, while we have homeground advantage, we cannot afford to take them lightly."
Last season, Hariss initially struggled to get into the first team of a star-studded JDT team, but he has now made the central midfield position his own, alongside Malaysia national captain Safiq Rahim.
Boasting such a formidable engine room, they have beaten all MSL opponents at the Larkin Stadium to overhaul Pahang at the top of the standings.
Even as he enters into discussions with JDT over an extension of his existing two-year contract, which ends at the end of 2015, Hariss is sure that his overseas stint has helped him become a better footballer.
Right now, he is focused on only one thing.
"It is always more difficult to retain the title than to win it for the first time and we have done well to be on course to win it again," he said.
"It won't be easy, but we are up for the challenge and we want to finish the league season well."