Johor were never at their best as they were held to a goalless draw by a dogged ATM side
BY MARK DAWSON
Johor unsurprisingly named a strong line-up for what they knew would be a testing tie against the Gladiators, bringing last weeks match winner Safiq Rahim back into the team to partner Hariss Harun in central midfield. It was no shock that the set-piece master created the games first opportunity, swinging a corner to the far post where defender Fadhli Shas was wide open, but found his goalbound header chested off the line by Rezal Zambery Yahya.
On the 15 minute mark the Southern Tigers went agonizingly close to going ahead, again through a set-piece. This time it was Nazrin Nawi with a fine delivery which ATM keeper Syed Adney came for and missed, but Luciano Figueroa was unable to do anything but head over.
The home side were having success dictating the play, and continually pressuring their opponents in the opening half, with ATM little threat but for a weak header on goal by Fauzi Saari that was easily dealt with.
Despite often being outnumbered, Argentine Figueroa was proving to be a constant threat, and he thought that he had assisted the opening goal on 34 minutes. Yet again the danger came from another fine Nawi cross, with Harun meeting it and heading against the bar, Figueroa played it across the goalmouth to the waiting Norshahrul who guided it home, but he was correctly judged offside.
Perhaps spurred into action by the performance of his opponent and fellow countryman, Bruno Martelotto came alive just before half-time, making a fine individual run into theJDT area where his forward progress was stopped by a great saving tackle by Fadhli Shas.
In added time at the end of the first period JDT had their best opportunity from open play,with Nawi on the left the provider of a chance that was uncharacteristically headed wide by Figueroa, who should have at least worked the keeper.
From the beginning of the second half ATM visibly grew into the game, with Martelotto, Thinagaran and Fabrice Noel able to get on the ball more and at least ensure that the visitors were not just pinned inside their own half, even if they still failed to create much in the way of chances on goal.
JDT captain Aidil Zafuan was fortunate not to receive his marching orders on 65 minutes following his second poor tackle on the battered Noel, and 10 minutes later his central defensive partner came close to making the most of this let-off by opening the scoring. Again the play of ATM keeper Syed Adney left a lot to be desired, as not for the first time he came for a cross and missed, allowing Safiq to get to the byline and pull back for Marcos Antonio who volleyed over from a fantastic position with a true defenders finish.
Fifteen minutes from time it was Adney who was lucky to remain on the pitch as he raced out of his area and bought down Jorge Diaz just outside the box, much to the anger of Diaz and Figueroa who argued fiercely against the yellow card given to him. The keeper redeemed himself from the resulting free-kick, saving well from Figueroa in the last real chance of note, despite relentless late JDT attacks.