Counting on Shahfiq
Fandi recalls striker but wants him to show more aggression
LIONSXII v ATM
(Tonight, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 201, Ch 255 & 76.25MHz)
It was in this corresponding fixture last year that LionsXII striker Shahfiq Ghani made local football fans marvel with two stunning strikes as the Malaysian Super League champions beat ATM FA 3-1 at Jalan Besar.
And with coach Fandi Ahmad finally giving him the nod after being benched for the last four games, the 22-year-old hopes for a repeat performance tonight to give his season the kickstart it so badly needs.
"It's been so long since I scored, so if I can score and help the team to win, that would be the best scenario," said Shahfiq, who won The New Paper's Lions-XII Goal of the Year award with his wicked curling effort from outside the box against the Gladiators last season.
However, the LionsXII have been in a recent slump with four defeats in their last five matches as they slipped to eighth.
For Shahfiq, it has been 277 days since he last scored for the LionsXII, when he came off the bench to grab a free-kick equaliser in the 2-2 Malaysia Cup draw against Kedah.
For most parts of 2013, things had looked so rosy for Shahfiq.
In his first season in the Malaysian Super League, he had scored five goals, and added another in the Malaysia Cup.
On the international front, he grabbed his first international goal in Singapore's 6-1 friendly defeat by China, and also scored three times for the National Under-23s.
But, after scoring for the Young Lions in a 6-0 friendly win over the Philippines Under-23, Shahfiq failed to find the net at the South-east Asia Games in Myanmar, and even fractured his spine in the 1-0 semi-final loss to Thailand.
"I couldn't even jog, and it took me a few months to get back to full training," he said.
"This affected my match fitness and my confidence. My touches were poor and I missed so many chances.
"Strikers need goals to build confidence. I feel down, but I know there's no other way out of this other than to work hard and keep trying to get that first goal of the year."
Fandi feels that Shahfiq will add creativity up front playing behind striker Khairul Amri, but added that these moments have been few and far between this season, and he wants more bite from him tonight.
The 51-year-old said: "He must want to change himself, his body language is languid, like (Dimitar) Berbatov.
"They are similarly intelligent and creative but Shahfiq must show he wants to fight.
"We need him to be aggressive. I will be very happy if he gives 100 per cent for 60 minutes, rather than just getting by for 90 minutes."
Fandi also insisted that his players have put behind them Tuesday's disappointing 3-2 loss to Johor Darul Ta'zim after taking a 2-0 lead.
Defenders Afiq Yunos and Madhu Mohana are suspended, although Baihakki Khaizan comes back into the side, while Faritz Abdul Hameed and Zulfahmi Arifin are nursing injuries.
Fandi added: "We need to learn how to defend our leads. Our players are not mature enough, but we cannot be doing this every game, otherwise everyone who supports this team will be frustrated.
"The coaches can shout, but it is up to the players out there on the pitch to learn for themselves and rally each other.
"As a player or coach, I have never lost four in a row. ATM have injuries to key players and we are playing at home, so we have to take advantage and win.
"We want to finish as high up the table as possible."
Probable LionsXII starting line-up:
Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Baihakki Khaizan, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Faris Ramli, Raihan Rahman, Gabriel Quak, Safuwan Baharudin, Shahfiq Ghani, Khairul Amri.
Perak 4 Sarawak 1
ATM banking on a win
For almost two months, this ATM looked like it was out of service.
B Sathianathan's men played 10 matches without a single victory and picked up just three points as they tumbled to the bottom of the Malaysian Super League table.
Only a come-from-behind 2-1 win over fellow stragglers T-Team last weekend lifted the beleaguered Gladiators out of the cellar.
"T-Team are a weak team, and even then we struggled," said Sathianathan, ahead of tonight's clash against the LionsXII at Jalan Besar, a match he described as a "must-win".
"The team are down. We have had too many injuries to our key players. Our national defenders Taj (Amirizwan Tajuddin) and K Reuben are out for six months because of knee-ligament injuries.
"Our captain Hai-O (forward Hairuddin Omar) is injured and we've released our Australian defender Spase Dilevski.
"The biggest loss was our star striker Marlon James. He could win a match on his own but he was struggling with a knee injury, so unfortunately we had to let him go.
"With all these injuries, we have had to fill our team with players from our youth team, players whose names you won't even know how to spell.
"We also brought in a South Korean defender Park Yong Ho and a striker Fabrice Noel from Haiti and they are still settling down."
Pre-season, both the LionsXII and ATM FA were expected to do well, but they now find themselves languishing in the bottom half of the table, and Sathianathan felt there were mitigating factors for both teams.
"We don't have a stable squad with all the injuries, while the LionsXII lost three key players Baihakki (Khaizan), Hariss (Harun) and Shahril (Ishak), so the results are not unexpected," he said.
Tonight, the LionsXII will do well to keep an eye on 28-year-old Noel, who grabbed both goals against T-Team.
With Jalan Besar no longer the fortress it was after being breached four times this year, and his team in such a precarious position, Sathianathan admitted to The New Paper he has to go for broke.
"This really is do or die. We have to win. You know how in our last three trips our goal was just to get a draw. Now a draw is no use and we have to go out and get a win," said the 56-year-old former Malaysia national coach.
"If we don't start picking up points now with six games left, we could get relegated.
"I'm used to pressure, football is pressure. But I'm feeling sad because this is the first time I'm in this dire situation."
The statistics don't look good for ATM FA, as they have never beaten the LionsXII at Jalan Besar.
They got a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Malaysia Cup in 2012 and lost 3-1 in the league last year, with both their goals scored by the now-retired James, before a 1-0 reverse in another Malaysia Cup match.
Sathianathan is also wary about the "wounded LionsXII", after the hosts suffered a 3-2 home defeat by Johor Darul Ta'zim after leading 2-0.
He said: "I was hoping the LionsXII would beat JDT so they could be more relaxed against us, but now I don't think so.
"I know the Singaporeans have pride. After their last two defeats, we could be the victims of their backlash.
"They were unlucky with the penalty decisions against Sime Darby and JDT, and the only thing I hope now is their bad luck continues."
"This really is do or die. We have to win. You know how in our last three trips our goal was just to get a draw. Now a draw is no use and we have to go out and get a win. "
- ATM coach B Sathianathan (picture above) - TNP FILE PHOTO