BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The second half of the Super League (MSL) will kick off this weekend with four matches set to take place over Saturday and Sunday, in the aftermath of six-point deduction punishments handed by M-League organiser Football Malaysia LLP (FMLLP) to four Malaysian clubs earlier this week for the failure to settle their players' wages. Two of the clubs will will play their MSL matches this weekend.
10th-placed Melaka United (10 points) are set to host league leaders JDT (26) on Saturday. Follow us for the preview to this match.
Pahang vs Kelantan
Another match of the night will involve second-placed Pahang (21 points), who will entertain seventh-placed Kelantan (10) at the Darulmakmur Stadium.
Despite their sterling form in reaching the FA Cup semis, the Elephants have dropped four points in their last two league matches, which saw them falling five points behind rivals the Southern Tigers. They will want to bounce back to keep chase of the leaders, when they take on the Red Warriors.
After all, Kelantan have been handed a demoralising six-point deduction by FMLLP earlier this week. The deduction saw them drop two places in the standings, from fifth.
Although they have the home advantage this Friday having not been beaten there this season in all eight matches, the Red Warriors too have an impressive away record; four wins and one draw.
But record may be on the Tok Gajah side; the last time Red Warriors won in Kuantan was all the way back in 2009. Their recent head-to-head record too favours the home side, with Pahang winning three encounters, Kelantan one, with one match ending in a draw.
The return of Mohamadou Sumareh, who last week was handed a bizarre one-match suspension, should bolster Dollah's starting lineup.
The consequence of Pahang's consecutive league draws is not lost on defender Faisal Rosli. He told Harian Metro:
"It's a shame we failed to beat Selangor and Felda United at home. Therefore, against Kelantan, we need to be more disciplined," said Faisal.
Meanwhile, Kelantan defender Qayyum Marjoni Sabil has vowed not to let the points deduction affect his morale, when interviewed by Berita Harian.
"We have to let this issue be dealt with by the Kelantan FA, as we (players) need to focus and play well in our next match.
"I am optimistic that we can halt Pahang's attacks this Saturday," he said.
T-Team vs Perak
Another East Coast side, eighth-placed T-Team (10 points) will host fourth Perak (17) on the same night. Just like the Red Warriors, the Titans too have had six-points deducted by FMLLP, sending them down one spot.
But the Titans need to put off-the-pitch matters aside against the Bos Gaurus, especially when they are on a two-match winning streak, having defeated Kedah and Selangor in April.
Furthermore, the visitors' current form has not been anything to write home about. Out of the seven matches they played under head coach Mehmet Durakovic, they have won only one (ironically against the Australian's former club Selangor), drawn four and lost two.
In addition to this, one record seems to provide the strongest support for a win for Rahmad Darmawan's men; the Bos Gaurus have never ever beaten the Titans in Kuala Terengganu, ever since the two sides met competitively for the first time in 2010.
Perak too have won only one match out of their past five encounters, with all the remaining four ending in draws.
Titans captain Hasbullah Awang echoed the sentiment voiced out by Kelantan's Qayyum, ahead of this match.
"We have to fully focus on this match and let the management sort out the issue (points deduction)," he told Stadium Astro.
T-Team. Photo from T-Team FC Facebook
Pulau Pinang vs Felda United
The only round 12 match to be played on Sunday will be between bottom-placed Pulau Pinang (five points) and sixth Felda United (11) at the Batu Kawan. Coincidentally, the two sides also faced off in round 12 of the previous season's competition, with the match ending in a 2-2 draw.
The Panthers head into this match looking to extricate themselves from the bottom spot, while the Fighters are looking for their first league win in two months.
But that is easier said than done, when Zainal Abidin Hassan's men have proven to be one the sides that get jittery playing in front of their own fans. Out of their five most recent home matches, they have drawn one and lost the remaing four. Whereas for Sathianathan Bhaskaran's charges, they have drawn three and lost two out of their five most recent league matches.
Their five most recent encounters have been won by Felda twice, by Pulau Pinang once, with the remaining two ending in draws.
Interestingly, the Panthers' only league win so far this season has come against Felda, a 1-0 away win in round nine.
Zainal told Berita Harian that he will tweak his tactics to surprise their opponents, as well as because of injuries.
"The first round win is already history and I have to change my tactics as they (Felda) are already familiar with our gameplay.
"But I am concerned by the absence of several key players due to injuries, which may disrupt the plans that I've worked on in order to collect the all three points," said the coach.
The remaining two matches will only be played next Tuesday, and they coincidentally involve both Selangor-based clubs Selangor and PKNS FC. Selangor will play away to Sarawak, while PKNS will host Kedah.