Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) winning run in the 2017 Super League came to a halt at Hang Jebat Stadium after they could only draw 1-1 with Melaka United on Saturday night's Super League action. The match was a far cry from the walkover that JDT in the reverse fixture earlier in the season as Melaka showed that on their day, they can match the big boys.
JDT's Benjamin Mora was forced to start with Dominic Tan in the centre of defence after Aidil Zafuan was deemed not fit enough to even be on the bench. But the reigning league champions were able to welcome back Hazwan Bakri into the starting line-up with Shakir Shaari replacing the suspended Afiq Fazail.
Meanwhile Eric Williams had to make do without Amri Yahyah - opting for a front two of Sergio Aguero and Ilija Spasojevic. G. Puaneswaran was handed the arm band in Amri's absence as Melaka looked to overturn their winless run.
Suprisingly, it was the home side that started the brighter with good pressing work done by Melaka's midfield and forward departments. Chances were limited at both ends but Melaka were doing a good job of denying service to Hazwan while Gabriel Guerra was kept in wider positions - reducing his effectiveness.
Somehow the pressing game didn't last long and with more time on the ball, JDT started to create chances and they almost took the lead in the 20th minute when Azrif Nasrulhaq's cross from the right hand side was headed onto the post by Guerra. The Argentine also only narrowly missed connecting with Safiq Rahim's free kick just three minutes later.
Mora was forced to make an early change midway through the first half when Amirulhadi Zainal couldn't shake off the eye irritation that troubled him for most parts of the opening period and had to be replaced by Safawi Rasid.
Melaka offered some response with shots from outside the box through Jeon Woo Young but it was the first half substitute that nearly opened the scoring in the match. Safawi beat Khair Joines and cut in from the right hand side before unleashing a powerful shot in the 37th minute that required Fazli's quick reaction to palm away.
In the second half, Melaka were the first to threaten when Khuzaimi Piee found himself unmarked inside the penalty box in the 53rd minute but his left footed volley kept on rising and Izham Tarmizi wasn't called into action.
That would proved to be a costly chance for the home side as JDT take the lead in the 59th minute. Safiq stood over a free kick just to the right of Melaka's goal and proceeded to produce a wicked in-swinger that caught Fazli off-guard. Anticipating a header from Guerra, Fazli could not do anything as the ball nestled in the bottom corner of the net for JDT to lead 0-1.
The Southern Tigers would have further chances to increase their lead but Fazli reacted well on both occasions to deny first Safawi from a direct free kick then from Azrif, who came on-rushing to pounce on a cross from his fellow full back, Fazly Mazlan.
JDT's failure to add to their tally would come back to haunt them late in the game when Melaka equalised. In the 87th minute, R. Surendren's cross was chested down by Jeon Woo Young before side footing the ball past a stranded Izham to make it 1-1. Dominic was unaware of Jeon's movement behind him and JDT were punished for it.
1-1 was the final score but with five points lead before the start of the match, JDT remained on top but they would no doubt see this as two points dropped while Williams would be proud to see his charges turned up on the night.