NOT up to the mark in defence.
Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) could have snatched a point in their pulsating clash against Pahang at Darul Makmur Stadium on Friday.
Instead JDT returned home disappointed with nothing as they were beaten 3-2, with the winner for the hosts dramatically scored in stoppage time - no thanks to the leaking Johor defence.
Yes...the big spenders were let down big time by the defence, yet again. This was also the case when they let LionsXII steal a 2-2 draw last time out after taking a convincing 2-0 lead.
The winner for Pahang, scored via a header by Hafiz Kamal after a free kick by Azidan Sarudin, could have been avoided. JDT were caught flat when the ball was sent in, they should have been more alert.
And JDT knew a point would have been in the bag if they had successfully defended the set-piece.
What a pity.
On top of that, the first goal conceded by Cesar Jimenez's men scored by Matias Conti early in the game was also after a mistake by centre back Izuan Jarudin, who crumbled under pressure.
Izuan was playing at the heart of defence, with the absence of injured regular Aidil Zafuan, together with the vastly experienced Singapore international Baihaki Khaizan.
Playing at right back was Mahali Jasuli while on the left it was Fadhli Shas, normally a centre back.
Spaniard Jimenez has had a lot to do to tighten the defence, which was a persistent problem as well last season.
|PAHANG 3-2 JDT
|MAN OF THE MATCH – AZIDAN SARUDIN
JDT suffered a massive blow in Kuantan as well when little Argentine magician Pablo Aimar had to be substituted on the hour mark with an apparent hamstring problem.
Aimar had earlier scored a world class goal just before the break to make it 1-1.
JDT are now praying that the injury suffered by the former Valencia and Benfica midfielder is not that bad, otherwise he may be ruled out for a lengthy period.
They can't afford to be without Aimar as they have already lost twice in the Super League, which is only four games old.
Never mind the fact that Aimar's teammates, with the exception of fellow countryman and chief striker Luciano Figueroa, are still struggling to understand or read the 34-year-old's moves or intentions.
The combination up front needs to be improved.
Midfielders Safiq Rahim and Shakir Shaari must raise their games now that Aimar may be out for some time. Perhaps, it is time for Jimenez to give newly-signed Hariss Harun more playing time.
This Singapore international is versatile and can contribute as JDT continue to fight for honours this season.
The good news is that it's not too late for the Southern Tigers to bounce back.
Credit must be given to Pahang, under coach Ronald Smith, to make the game a thriller and highly entertaining. Both teams were trying to play football, with both having an attacking approach.
The ball was always on the ground with both teams executing some delightful passes in their bid to outwit each other as they searched for goals.
Besides fans from Pahang and JDT, the neutrals were enjoying the game as well, it must be said.
Pahang defender Damion Stewart was one of the stars for Pahang as the Jamaican successfully doused the danger posed by Figueroa, who had just one clear chance after being put through by Aimar.
Midfielder Azidan was in his element too as he was involved in both the attacking and defensive aspects of the game.
With all that's been said, the Malaysia Cup champions Pahang have proved they are back in business. They are there to challenge for honours themselves - especially if they can maintain the kind of performance they enjoyed on Friday.
Mustapha 'El Loco' Kamaruddin is an experienced sports journalist who is crazy about football. He has been following football, both at local and international scenes for over two decades. He is also a columnist with The Malay Mail.