Raja praise players for sticking to plan

PKNS FC had to absorb a lot of pressure from the league leaders but defended brilliantly to earn a 0-0 draw against Johor Darul Ta'zim.

Having suffered a 3-0 defeat in the corresponding away fixture in Johor Bahru earlier in the season, K. Rajagopal wasn't going to let history repeat twice and worked his players tirelessly prior to the Super League encounter against league leaders, Johor Darul Ta'zim.

The 0-0 draw vindicates the effort put in by the wily head coach who spent a lot of time making sure his players get into the right team shape and work to deny the space that JDT like to work in. He targeted Hariss Harun and Gonzalo Cabrera as the key duo in the JDT system and neither players were able to reach their usual high standards at Shah Alam Stadium.

Rajagopal knew his team would be put under tremendous pressure and was pleased that his charges passed the test with flying colours. Surprisingly he opted to have Nazrin Syamsul Bahari starting his first ever match this season but was rewarded with a combative effort from the midfielder.

"Overall the players worked hard. We know JDT are a consistent team with good players in all positions. The pitch was heavy and it wasn't easy to play in those conditions. JDT had more of the chances compared to us, so it wasn't easy to get the point." 

"I brought Nazrin in. He was surprised by the decision. But he worked hard in training and he has got the mobility in this condition. It's not easy for him to start against JDT but he did well," said Rajagopal in the post-match press conference.

That said, the match itself wasn't one for the neutrals. The pitch suffered as a result of a heavy downpour throughout the evening prior to kick-off and the players on both sides were showing the impact of playing in midweek.

Towards the last quarter of the match, Rajagopal brought on M. Sivakumar for Jafri Firdaus Chew as he looked to close up shop and further block JDT's passing lanes. It was a Catch 22 situation for the head coach but in the end, his more pragmatic side won the battle and PKNS were able to secure a valuable point.

"I thought to make an attacking option because we saw that we were defending more. We wanted a fresh leg in attack because we can see that they were pushing. But also I didn't want to concede a goal, so went to shore things up and be more compact to contain them," added Rajagopal.

The team will now have one week to recover before their next match on June 3 away to Negeri Sembilan.