Dez Corkhill: Gazing through the haze, you can see the last showdown for the Malaysian Super League

Dez Corkhill sums up the remaining fixtures of the Malaysian Super League as the haze looks to extend the competition into the coming months
By Dez Corkhill

The 2013 Malaysia Super League is approaching a gripping conclusion. Saturday’s trip to Singapore for Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) is the pivotal fixture as the three teams - LionsXII, JDT and ATM - are still in with a genuine chance of the title going into the final four games of the season.

If, and it’s a big if, Fandi Ahmad’s JDT can win on the artificial turf at Jalan Besar, the title will be so open that you would expect the Lions would need to get a result in Kota Bahru against deposed Champions Kelantan on July 6 to secure the title.

If LionsXII slip up to JDT, then the door is ajar for both Johor and Sathianathan’s ATM to take advantage. Both still have to take on Selangor who, themselves, aren’t mathematically out of the title race yet.

So many permutations, so many possibilities, and added external drama in that the haze drifting over from Sumatra may yet cause the cancellation of fixtures and cause the season to be extended.

Notwithstanding the haze, LionsXII are doing their best to make sure it’s a level playing field ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Johor. Baihakki’s Khaizan’s kamikaze season of bookings – 11 in all - mean that the influential defender is suspended for three of the Lions' last four fixtures, whilst Hafiz Sujad is also suspended for Saturday. The Singaporeans may find themselves short in the very area you need to be strong against Johor and their next opponents, Perak.

ATM’s reliance on the goals of Marlon James was exposed in their shock loss to Negeri Sembilan before the break. It’s both a blessing and a curse when your top scorer contributes 50 per cent of your goal tally. It’s a blessing when he’s fit. It’s a curse when he’s injured. We’ll find out if James has indeed returned in ATM’s Friday night clash at Shah Alam with Selangor – live on Astro Arena in Malaysia (channel 801). 

It’s a game we’ve all played, so let me indulge in a bit of crystal ball gazing and look ahead at the Championship run in.

Friday June 21 / Saturday June 22

  • LionsXII vs JDT:
    • No Baihakki, No Hafiz, against the free running Mat-Yo, the impudent skills of Nurul Azwan Roya and the brilliant contributions of a surely fitter Nunez could mean the end of their 100 record record at Jalan Besar. That would go a little way to helping Fandi get one over the FAS.
    • Verdict: DRAW

  • Selangor vs ATM:
    • How fit is Marlon James? Can Hai-O take the strain if James is nullified by Adam Griffiths? No to both.
    • Verdict: DRAW

Tuesday June 25

  • Perak vs LionsXII
    • No Baihakki and a rampant Paulo Rangel. Perak away was always one of the tougher fixtures for Lions. With Rangel, Perak are a different team.
    • Verdict: DRAW

  • JDT vs Felda
    • We can’t forget that Felda are in a desperate battle against relegation. They’re difficult enough to break down, but you sense that JDT – particularly at home – will go to Bukit Jalil for the FA Cup final with a win under their belts.
    • Verdict: JDT WIN

  • ATM vs Terengganu
    • I can’t imagine Terengganu will ever get over that semi-final loss to Kelantan. Having so nearly done the impossible, then have it taken away from them will hurt for a long time. Add to that that they’re off the back of another North East derby with Kelantan at the weekend. Too much trauma for Terengganu.
    • Verdict: ATM WIN

  • Selangor vs PKNS
    • Difficult to beat PKNS who have little to play for. They’ll be resilient, but Selangor’s desire should see them through to an away victory at home.
    • Verdict: SELANGOR WIN

Tuesday July 2

  • LionsXII vs Felda
    • A full house at Jalan Besar makes for a crackling atmosphere. It should be full on the first Tuesday in July. And Felda – though a pacy menace on the break – may well suffer on the artificial pitch. Nerves will be fraught for both. Felda at the bottom of the table, Lions in sight of the finishing line.
    • Verdict: LIONS WIN

  • Negeri Sembilan vs JDT
    • We can’t forget that Negeri are also in a desperate battle against relegation. Championship contenders a few short seasons ago, and capable of beating ATM a few weeks ago. But surely no chance of another upset. Johor – on the back of the emotion at Bukit Jalil – regroup for two last battles. Expecting huge away support to see a JDT WIN.
    • Verdict: JDT WIN

  • Pahang vs ATM
    • This is the biggie for ATM. Pahang have been a breath of fresh air to the League this season, and their Cup adventure ended in glorious failure. But that cup defeat may well have knocked the stuffing out of them and Alex and co. will need to re-charge their batteries ahead of the Piala Malaysia. ATM know a win here is the only result.
    • Verdict: ATM WIN

  • Selangor vs T-Team
    • Marzuki, George Boateng and the other senior pros with T-Team won’t go down without a fight. Selangor – the draw specialists – finally see their hopes evaporate on the penultimate day. T-Team to earn a point that could be crucial for their survival prospects.
    • Verdict: DRAW

Saturday July 6

  • Kelantan vs LionsXII
    • Lions need a point – or need Selangor to prevent JDT winning at the Larkin, or ATM beating Perak. A resurgent Kelantan and an intimidating atmosphere at Kota Bahru with Dickson terrorizing the Lions rearguard.
    • Verdict: KELANTAN WIN

  • JDT vs Selangor
    • JDT are now running on empty. Five huge games in 16 days could take its toll. Nunez negated by Griffiths, Selangor’s hard-running midfield smothering JDT. Despite a massive crowd, it could be one game too many for JDT. DRAW
    • Verdict: DRAW

  • ATM vs Perak
    • No-one has given them a chance since that defeat to Negeri. Yet Sathia’s experienced collection of players know that a victory over Perak and defeat for the LionsXII in Kelantan would give the ATM investment a real return. Expereince the key here against a Perak team who had earlier hurt the Lions' chances.
    • Verdict: ATM WIN

As a rider to this, I remind you of my prediction early in the season was for the Lions to really struggle this season. That prediction has been blown out of the water. And the haze may well scupper this weekend’s fixtures. But whatever way you look at it, there is a stunning climax beckoning to the season.