BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Melaka United secured safety from relegation in the Super League, when they defeated Selangor 2-1 at the Hang Jebat Stadium on Wednesday. They led 2-0 at the halftime whistle through goals by Jasmin Mecinovic and Marko Simic, but Rufino Segovia pulled one back for the visitors 12 minutes into the second half.
The Mousedeers headed into the match needing to win at home, as they were only separated by four points from the relegation zone with two rounds remaining in the league. The fifth-placed Red Giants meanwhile, no longer threatened by relegation, looked to finish the league in a better position.
But the gulf in the two teams' standings hid a reversal in their current forms. The Mousedeers recently managed to pull off a shock 3-1 win over Perak, as well as record a 1-1 second leg Malaysia Cup quarter-final draw against JDT. Selangor however have lost all of their four most recent matches.
The hosts' boss Eduardo Almeida had the use of all four of his foreign signings, as well as midfielder Puaneswaran Gunasekaran, Fauzi Roslan and defender Khair Jones.
The visitors head coach Maniam Pachaiappan meanwhile made several changes; with centre back Ugo Ukah suspended, former Melaka United man Amri Yahyah not listed in the matchday squad, and winger Syahmi Safari and midfielder Saiful Ridzuwan Selamat benched. The remaining three foreign players started, and defender Bunyamin Omar and midfielder Abdul Halim Zainal returned to the starting line-up.
The visitors almost went in front in the second minute, through Indonesian star Andik Vermansah's solo effort. Dribbling towards the hosts' penalty area, he struck from outside, but his low shot was kept out by goalkeeper Badrulzaman Abdul Halim.
It was the hosts who went in front, just four minutes later. A corner kick from the left was nodded in by Mecinovic at the far post, having been marked rather poorly by Selangor skipper Razman Roslan.
Nick Swirad almost doubled their lead in the ninth minute, his chip tipped over the crossbar at the last moment by goalkeeper Khairulazhan Khalid. The ensuing corner kick almost resulted in a goal through Jasmin's header again, but this time Khairulazhan was on hand to keep the header out.
Despite the early pressure and frantic first 10 minutes, Melaka only managed to come away from that period with that one goal and Selangor soon settled into the match.
Selangor pushed on for the equaliser and managed to keep most of the possession, but were let down by their poor decision making in the final third, combined with the defensive play of the hosts.
With five minutes remaining before halftime and Selangor doing most of the attacking, Felipe Almeida De Souza spotted Khairulazhan off his line, and attempted an audacious long range shot from inside his own half, near the centre circle. But the custodian spotted the try and backtracked just in time to tip the ball over the bar.
But Khairulazhan could not stop the goal that came from the resulting corner kick. In the 42nd minute. Souza picked up Kannan Kalaiselvan's weak headed clearance, and threaded a pin-point pass towards Simic in the Selangor penalty box. The Croatian slotted the ball past Khairulazhan, a low shot into the bottom corner. Once again, poor marking by Selangor let to them conceding, this time by young defender Adam Nor Azlin, who very recently has just received a call-up to the Malaysia national team for their Asian Cup qualification group match. 10 minutes before the goal, Adam had bizarrely celebrated successfully stopping Simic with a tackle near the touchline.
Three minutes into the second half, Rufino could have pulled one back following a spirited move by Kannan, but his header with Badrulzaman already beaten ended on the wrong side of the near post.
A minute later Maniam made his first change, bringing on Syahmi for Bunyamin.
In the 55th minute Jeon Woo-young could have made it 3-0, but his tap-in went wide.
Rufino finally hit the mark in the 57th minute. Receiving a short pass by Namathevan Arunasalam at the edge of the penalty box, he turned and slotted the ball in the far bottom corner.
At the hour mark the Spaniard was tackled by Puaneswaran in the penalty area and Rufino went down clutching his ankle, but the referee awarded no penalty kick.
Maniam then made a bizarre change, taking off Forkey Doe for Fittri Shazwan Raduwan. Almeida made his first change, a fresh pair of legs in Ahmad Ezrie Shafizie for Sivanesan Shanmugam.
Another defensive mistake almost gave away another goal to the hosts. Razman's weak clearance in his penalty area was pounced on by Fauzi, but his snapped shot sailed over the crossbar.
Despite the multitude of chances had by the visitors, they could not find the equaliser, and the match finished 2-1.
The result was enough to secure another season in the top flight for the Mousedeers, while for the Red Giants it was their fifth straight defeat in all competitions this season.
Melaka United : Badrul (GK), Khair, Jasmin, Swirad, Puaneswaran, Fauzi, Souza, Sivanesan (Ezrie 68'), Jeon, Surendran (C) (Fandi 78'), Simic.
Selangor : Khairulazhan (GK), Razman (C), Bunyamin (Syahmi 52'), Adam, Namathevan, Halim, Veenod, Kannan (Raimi 79'), Rufino, Doe (Fittri 66'), Andik.