BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Team: Melaka United
Current position: 10th
Goal predicted that Melaka United would go down from the Malaysia Super League (MSL) when all 22 rounds have been played, and so far they are not out of the woods yet, occupying the spot above the relegation zone in tenth place.
Despite beginning the competition positively; three wins and two defeats, the Mousedeers' next five matches were dismal; with them recording four consecutive defeats and one draw. They have also been very poor on the road; having lost four away matches and drawn one away encounter.
The streak of defeats brought about the sacking of Portuguese head coach Eduardo Almeida who was then replaced by former PKNS FC boss Elavarasan Elangowan earlier this month; their third head coach in the past year.
They share the worst goals scored tally with Negeri Sembilan in last place at the moment; nine goals, with only of them scored away from home. Meanwhile, they have shipped in seventeen goals all season.
Their pre-season signings have not been particularly convincing. Former Malaysia international Fakri Saarani keeps the critics wondering why he is still playing in the top tier, while Singapore midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman, on loan from Home United, hasn't lit up the MSL as his compatriots Faris Ramli at PKNS and Safuwan Baharudin at Pahang have.
They are however lucky that Belarusian forward Yahor Zubovich has been performing well, netting six out of the nine goals they have scored this season.
Yahor Zubovich. Photo from Football Malaysia LLP
League survival may still be possible for the Mousedeers. Their first match under Elavarasan; an away clash against the in-form Perak on May 12, ended in a goalless draw. It was their first point away from home this season.
Team: Negeri Sembilan
Current position: 12th
Negeri Sembilan were one of the two sides handed a promotion to the MSL before the season began, as replacements for Felda United and Terengganu FC II.
But unlike PKNP FC, the other club to have received a promotion, they rarely outdo themselves, and have constantly been embroiled in dodgy mid-season transfer dealings. For these reasons, we predicted that the Deers to go down after all 22 rounds have been played.
After ten rounds, the one-time MSL champions are languishing in last place with five points, five points adrift off safety. Out of ten encounters, one ended in a win, two in draws, and the rest in defeats. Their goal counts too are awful; nine goals scored, joint-worst with Melaka, and 22 goals conceded, joint-worst with Kuala Lumpur.
Their quality have always been in doubt, but this was exacerbated by their questionable hirings.
Negeri Sembilan squad during their season launch. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
Head coach Jorg Steinebrunner was retained from last season, only to then be replaced in late February by Azraai Khor Abdullah, who in his last stint with them guided them to the 2011 Malaysia Cup title. Farcically, Azraai was in turn sacked earlier this month, purportedly for not preparing well ahead of the mid-season transfer window.
Singapore international Madhu Mohana was signed in the pre-season to fill the ASEAN foreign player slot, but before the season even began he was cut from the squad, ostensibly due to an injury, and replaced by Cambodia forward Prak Mony Udom. The last time Udom played for them in the league was in their 4-0 defeat to Pahang, in the fourth round.
They signed Malaysia U-23 goalkeeper Syihan Hazmi Mohamed from Kelantan, only for the custodian to receive a suspension for a doping case that is still under investigation.
Malaysia international Fakhrul Aiman Sidid have shown flashes of brilliance, but he has been hampered by niggling injuries.
Malaysia U-23 star forward Thanabalan Nadarajah, brought back from his loan spell at Felcra FC, has done relatively well with his two goals, but otherwise has been mostly sidelined due to injury, fitness and the need to field their more-experienced foreign players.
But just like Melaka who very recently appointed a new head coach, Negeri too may be rescued by their new appointment; Portuguese trainer Mario Lemos. Although they lost 2-1 to Kedah at home in their most-recent league match, Mario showed tactical acumen to switch his tactics in the second half to allow his new charges to control the game and pull one goal back.