Johor Darul Takzim's prospects of capturing the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title are looking hazy after they were held to a 1-1 draw by the LionsXII at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.
Had Darul Takzim protected Leonel Nunez's early opener and hung on to grab maximum points, they would have moved to a point behind the league leaders, with three more matches to go in the season.
A seemingly unhappy Fandi Ahmad was absent for the post-match press conference, as he sent Darul Takzim assistant coach Ismail Ibrahim instead.
Ismail revealed that the former Singapore international was not too pleased with referee Mohd Zamzaidi's decision to send off defender Aidil Zaquan in the 87th minute.
“Fandi is not happy but we can’t talk about the referee here and so we will submit the official complaint letter to them [Football Association of Malaysia]," he said.
“They have to be fair to Aidil as he wants to play in the FA Cup final on June 29. If the tackle goes through the leg, it’s fine [to give the red card] but it hit the ball.
“Aidil was crying in the dressing room as he has played all season in the FA Cup but because of one decision, he has to miss it.”
Although Darul Takzim did not meet their objective of winning, they broke the LionsXII's perfect record at home as they became the first team to take points off them.
“We came here to get three points and we tried our best until the last eight minutes and they equalised,” Ismail said.
“We are the first team to draw here, but still we are disappointed as we had wanted all the points.”
While many teams have complained about the artificial pitch for their failure to win, Ismail was not about to embark on a blame game.
He also revealed that Fandi had meticulously prepared his players on how to deal with freekicks from the LionsXII, but they still failed to prevent the hosts from scoring off a set-piece when Safuwan Baharudin lashed home a rebound after Faritz Hameed's header from a freekick was punched out.
“The turf here is different than the one we trained on in Kluang but we can’t complain as both teams are playing on the same ground here," he said.
“We have studied about LionsXII and how they like to send their freekicks to the far post so it’s poor defending from us and they managed to score that goal.”
While the title looks to be the LionsXII's to lose, Ismail feels that his team will not give up until the race is over.
“We will try our best to win the last three matches and anything can happen as in the final match [the] LionsXII will be playing against Kelantan and we will be playing at home against Selangor," he pointed out.
Johor Darul Takzim will next host Felda United on June 25 while the LionsXII will travel to Ipoh to face Perak on the same day.
If the LionsXII win their next two games, they will be assured of the MSL title.