Fandi picks Faris and Quak to support Amri in attack in Ipoh
PERAK v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.45pm, Perak Stadium)
The LionsXII will be on the prowl in Ipoh tonight, looking for their first Malaysian Super League (MSL) goal away from home.
While Fandi Ahmad's charges put on a scintillating attacking display in the 5-3 win over PDRM FA in the season opener at their Jalan Besar Stadium home, they were toothless in the 2-0 defeat by Kelantan in Kota Baru last Sunday.
Breaching the backline of a Perak team who are joint-top of the MSL, yet to concede a goal and with two wins out of two, will not be easy.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Fandi said: "We're confident of getting something positive from this game, but the boys need to support (striker Khairul) Amri more.
"He was too isolated against Kelantan. The backline and midfield must push up more and make sure he gets the support and ammunition he needs."
The team had to endure a tough journey yesterday, spending almost five hours on a coach from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh because of the heavy Chinese New Year traffic.
But it does not change Fandi's belief that tonight's match is a "make-it-or-break-it" clash, highlighting the importance of avoiding a second consecutive defeat on the trot.
Perak, coached by former S.League Coach of the Year M Karathu, beat Sime Darby and ATM FA 2-0 in their first two games.
The Seladang endured a difficult season last term, when they finished ninth out of 12 teams, but they've strengthened, adding former K-League midfielder Woong Nam Kung to their side to play alongside Brazilian imports Charles Souza Chad (striker) and Marco Tulio (playmaker).
To get his team firing again, Fandi will field the same three-pronged attack - Faris Ramli and Gabriel Quak on either side of central forward Amri - that demolished PDRM two weeks ago.
Faris and Sahil Suhaimi, who were unavailable for the Kelantan game because of commitments with the national Under-23 team, are both likely to feature tonight.
Despite the national U-23s having a match against Syria at Jalan Besar Stadium at the same time, the duo travelled with Fandi's squad because of injuries to LionsXII frontmen Sufian Anuar and Khairul Nizam.
The two 22-year-olds notched a goal each against PDRM, Faris sweeping home from close range before Sahil, who came on as a second-half substitute, expertly curled in a free-kick.
"I think we'll go with Faris, Amri and Gabriel up front again, although we might shape up a bit different in midfield," said Fandi.
"We will have two holding men this time, in Isa (Halim) and Izzdin (Shafiq), together with Zulfahmi (Arifin)."
While he was pleased to have Faris and Sahil available again, Fandi has been most heartened by a positive change in the mindset of players like Quak, who scored the opening goal against PDRM.
The left-footed winger will be hoping to raise some Chinese New Year cheer to those back home by continuing his good early-season form with another bright showing tonight.
Fandi revealed the 24-year-old's improvement is a result of a heart-to-heart talk about the "Three Bs" formula he feels his players need to have if they want to do well in the MSL.
"Now, Gabriel is a bit more matured," said the coach.
"I had a long talk with him after last season and told him he needs to have the 'Three Bs: Brains, Brawn and Balls', especially in tough away matches.
"I've always emphasised to him the need for aggression and he's showing signs of improvement.
"Now you can see that, in addition to attacking, he will help the team out in defence, too.
"Our players are still learning, but I'm glad to see this positive difference in him and a number of others, like Madhu (Mohana) and Nazrul (Nazari)."
"I had a long talk with him after last season and told him he needs to have the ‘Three Bs: Brains, Brawn and Balls’, especially in tough away matches. I’ve always emphasised to him the need for aggression and he’s showing signs of improvement."
- LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad on Gabriel Quak (No. 7)