Madhu: No case for LionsXII's weak defence
FELDA UNITED v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV CH 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
He was part of the LionsXII squad that defied critics and lifted the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title in 2013.
The team, then coached by V Sundramoorthy, boasted a mean defence that conceded just 15 goals in 22 games.
Today, though, Madhu Mohana finds himself part of the most porous backline in the MSL.
After three games of the new season, the Singapore team have already shipped seven goals.
Speaking to The New Paper ahead of the LionsXII's match against Felda United in Selayang tonight, Madhu, who turned 24 yesterday, admitted the unwanted record hurts.
"Obviously, the record affects me and the other defenders, because our goal in every game is to keep a clean sheet," he said.
"We need to concentrate better for the whole 90 minutes.
"The 5-3 win over PDRM was an example of how we didn't concentrate."
The way the LionsXII capitulated in the final 25 minutes against newly-promoted PDRM in the opening game would have worried coach Fandi Ahmad.
Some have pointed to the departures of national team stalwarts Safuwan Baharudin (now at A-League club Melbourne City) and Baihakki Khaizan (Johor Darul Ta'zim II) as reasons for the shaky defence.
Madhu refused to use it as an excuse.
"Yes, Safuwan and Bai have left, and we don't have much cover in defence, so it's not easy," he said.
"And from what I've seen, the league has improved a lot since the first year.
"This year, especially, each team can play all four foreign players at one time, so it's tough.
"But it's no excuse. It's my responsibility to step up in Safuwan and Bai's absence.
"We all need to perform, and with hard work and togetherness, I'm sure this team have what it takes to cope."
Madhu is expecting to work overtime again as he and his teammates try to keep free-scoring Felda at bay.
The surprise leaders, who earned promotion to the MSL by finishing runners-up in the Malaysian Premier League last season, have scored eight goals in their first three games.
Their strikers - Zambian-born Australian Ndumbe Makeche and Liberian international Edward Wilson - have already bagged two apiece, as has local youngster Ahmad Syamim, whom LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad knows from his time as Johor Darul Ta'zim II coach in 2012.
It doesn't help Fandi's case then, that he is sweating on the fitness of Madhu's first-choice partner at centre back this season, Afiq Yunos.
Afiq was recently struck down with another case of gout - the illness almost kept him out of the PDRM win - and was limited to light training yesterday.
If he fails to recover in time, midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin will likely deputise.
"It's a problem, but we have no choice," said Fandi.
"If Afiq is not 100 per cent, we will go with Zul. He's has done well at centre back in friendlies, but I'm a little worried because of the physicality of Felda's foreign players.
"We are even looking at Izzdin (Shafiq, another midfielder) as another option in defence in case Madhu gets suspended."
Fandi admitted his defence has not been as solid as he would have liked, but insisted the team can overcome their back pains by working as a unit.
"The likes of Madhu, Nazrul (Ahmad Nazari, right back) and Izwan (Mahbud, goalkeeper) are vocal and communicating well, but one or two others are still too quiet," said Fandi.
"Plus, we have been let down by our positioning sometimes because of inexperience. But overall, mentally, we are much better than last season.
"With the ball we have been good, and we have been dangerous in attack.
"What we need to do without the ball is be compact, and move as a group. (Striker Khairul) Amri must be the first line of defence.
"We can't have one or two players not working hard. If not, we're finished. We'll collapse.
"But I'm confident in the boys. They have shown more guts this season, hopefully we will have more glory, too."
PROBABLE LIONSXII LINE-UP:
- Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Isa Halim, Izzdin Shafiq, Firdaus Kasman, Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri.
Wilson vows to cut down LionsXII
He is under pressure from his coach to deliver.
And Felda United's Liberian international striker Edward Wilson is aiming to do just that when his team host the LionsXII in a Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash tonight at the Selayang Stadium.
He wants his message to be loud and clear - by scoring a hat-trick against Fandi Ahmad's men.
Speaking to The New Paper after the team's training session in Bangi yesterday evening, Wilson (above) said: "Tomorrow is a big match for us and we need the three points. We are playing at home, so I'm confident.
"I know the LionsXII defence has not been doing well. My target tomorrow is to get a hat-trick."
Wilson grabbed the headlines last year after he fired Felda into the MSL by scoring 19 goals as the team finished runners-up in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League.
This term, he has scored twice and is the team's joint-top goalscorer, with Zambian-born Australian Ndumba Makeche and local striker Ahmad Syamim.
But Felda coach Irfan Bakti is not convinced Wilson is anywhere near the top of his game.
"For me, Wilson hasn't impressed," said the coach.
"In fact, I've warned him to buck up or I'll replace him in the mid-season transfer window.
"I told both him and Makeche to prove themselves against the LionsXII.
"They are there for the taking.
"Their players may be national players, but they are still considered 'locals' to us. And when you're an imported striker, you need to show why you are a level or two above the locals."
The experienced Irfan insisted he was not taking the Singapore side lightly.
Indeed, he downplayed his side's position - second in the MSL standings - pointing out that they had yet to play any of the traditional big guns.
"There's no secret," added the 63-year-old coach.
"I just like my teams to attack. Yes, we have scored eight goals in three games. But we could have very easily conceded eight in those games, as well.
"I have told my players to be wary of the LionsXII. Khairul Amri is definitely the man to watch, but I've noticed that this year's team rely more on teamwork than individual talent.
"To be honest, I was shocked they beat PDRM 5-3 even at home, and managed to draw 2-2 away at Perak.
"You can tell their players have a never-say-die attitude, and I think Fandi has prepared them well this season."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
Singapore to face Asean champs
To mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Thailand this year, the national teams of both countries will be playing in a two-legged friendly.
The first match will be played in Thailand on March 26, while details of the second match will be announced at a later date.
Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin said: "Since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Singapore and Thailand on Sept 20, 1965, we have developed strong ties at the government-to-government, business-to-business and people-to-people levels.
"Football is one of the key sports which can further strengthen relations at all levels and we are honoured to have the opportunity to be part of the commemorative events to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations."
Ticket details of the first match will be announced next week.