Pahang's title challenge suffer heavy blow ahead of crucial JDT repeat

Matthew Davies, UKM FC v Pahang, Malaysia FA Cup, 17 Apr 2019
Sports Regime
The title challenge for the 2019 Malaysia Super League is at risk of ending earlier than preferred after Pahang's unexpected loss to PJ City.

This was the third match in a week which had already saw Pahang held Johor Darul Ta'zim in the previous match and played well to stay in the FA Cup after a narrow first leg defeat away to Terengganu FC. But all the hard work of keeping pace with JDT in the league is fast coming undone after dropping all three points at Petaling Jaya Municipal Council Stadium. 

Going into the Round 12 of the league season, Pahang were already two points behind reigning champions JDT and knew that they could ill afford to not win against a PJ City side who are third from bottom in the league standings. With JDT themselves going to 11th placed Felda United on the same day, chances are Dollah Salleh knew only a win would maintain the two points gap.

A gap that would have been manageable what with The Elephants going to Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in 10 days time on May 14. But a win for JDT in Jengka coupled with this defeat for Pahang meant that the gap increased from two points to five points.

Without Safuwan Baharudin missing from the the line-up, the midfield became a problematic area for the visitors who struggled to get a foothold in the match against the more physical PJ City team. The diminutive duo of Nor Azam Azih and Wan Zaharulnizam were used in the centre in Safuwan's absence and there were plenty of confusion from both of them.

Neither are known for their defensive qualities and with both having to overcompensate because of that, Pahang lack the attacking engine room that both could have provided with with a defensive midfielder behind them like Safuwan. 

Up front, Dickson Nwakaeme is still nursing an injury but could be back in time to face JDT. In his absence, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Jose Eduardo Almeida shared the attacking burden but they were both completely nullified by PJ City's back three of S. Subramaniam, Anna Rahmat and Elizeu Batista.

On the same ground just three weeks ago, Pahang's rivals JDT collected full three points after a solitary goal scored by Syafiq Ahmad earned them a precious win. PJ City's home ground is increasingly becoming a difficult place to visit and Pahang's title challenge could be undone on the very same ground.

Goals from new signing Pedro Henrique (30') and Serginho (57') condemned Pahang to their first ever defeat in the league this season and it couldn't have come at a worst time with only 10 more rounds of matches remaining.

Having seen the Super League enjoyed a real title contest this season compared to the relentless march that was JDT's title win in 2018, it would be a real shame for the league to go the same way again. JDT remains as ruthless as ever in the league and because they rarely drop points, Pahang have to keep up the same pace.

However, keeping up the pace is proving more difficult than expected for The Elephants.


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