Defender Faritz's return to form a big boost for LionsXII
Fandi will rely on Faritz and his wide players to expose home side's fullbacks
REPORTING FROM KUCHING
SARAWAK v LIONSXII (Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
After almost a year out through a succession of knee, hip and toe injuries, LionsXII right back Faritz Abdul Hameed almost became the forgotten man of Singapore football.
But, at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Saturday, with his team 1-0 down against Selangor and a proud unbeaten home record set to be snapped, the 25-year-old showed just what he is capable of.
Overlapping enthusiastically in the 88th minute as if it was the first, the 25-year-old delivered a sweet cross for Khairul Nizam to power home acrobatically for a stunning equaliser.
"It feels great to be back, playing and contributing to the team," said Faritz, ahead of tonight's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash against Sarawak.
"I missed last year's Suzuki Cup because of my knee, couldn't start the new season because I had to shave off an extra bone in my hip, and then after I played three games, I had an open wound in my toe that got infected.
"It's a terrible feeling not to be able to play, and so when I get the opportunity now, I'm always up for it.
"I'm back to full fitness now, but I'm always looking at room for improvement.
"We are still in the running to finish in the top four in the MSL to be seeded for the Malaysia Cup and we will give it our all to bring back the three points."
In a season where they have won the Malaysian FA Cup and established a 14-match unbeaten run at home, the LionsXII cannot be faulted for a lack of effort.
However, a combination of bad luck and lapses of concentration has meant that they have mustered just one away league win all season.
Tonight's match against a team winless in their last 10 games represents the perfect opportunity to improve on their dismal record on the road.
Although key players such as eight-goal forward Faris Ramli (back), first-choice centre backs Madhu Mohana (rib) and Shakir Hamzah (personal reasons) may not feature, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is confident he has the game plan to see off Sarawak.
With his flying wingers and marauding fullbacks on form, Fandi wants his wide men to stretch the home side, for strikers Khairul Amri and Nizam to go for the kill.
The 53-year-old said: "Faritz and Hafiz (Abu Sujad) have done very well and I am happy with the way they support the wingers and send in dangerous crosses. Christopher (van Huizen) will replace Faris and Nazrul has had a good spell as a right winger.
"Sarawak's weak links are their fullbacks, so we want to try to hit them for an early goal.
"We are just a couple of points behind fourth-placed Felda United, and the teams ahead of us have to play each other.
"If we can snatch a win here, we can still meet our top-four target.
"Importantly, ahead of the home-and-away Malaysia Cup group games, an away win will give us belief we can go to the different states and get results."
Probable LionsXII line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Izzdin Shafiq, Shahdan Sulaiman, Christopher van Huizen, Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam.
We are just a couple of points behind fourthplaced Felda United, and the teams ahead of us have to play each other. If we can snatch a win here, we can still meet our top-four target.
— LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad
- Johor DT v Perak
- Pahang v Felda
- Selangor v Kelantan
- Sime Darby v ATM
- Terengganu v PDRM
Time for a win, says Grbesic
It wasn't so long ago when Sarawak were one of the most-feared outfits in Malaysia.
In 2013, they were labelled the Invincibles when they won the second-tier Malaysian Premier League without losing a match.
With fanatical supporters literally baying for blood, and players fully committed in every challenge, few teams relished a showdown with the Crocodiles.
Without a win in their last 10 Malaysian Super League matches, the eastern Malaysian side have slid towards the bottom of the table.
Attempting to arrest the slide last month, the management replaced Robert Alberts, who had been with the club for five years, with their youth team coach Fuad Grbesic.
But Sarawak have not posted a win since the change.
Regardless, Grbesic told The New Paper his team are capable of claiming all three points tonight and avoid the drop, and leave them in a better frame of mind for the Malaysia Cup campaign next month.
The Bosnian said: "We know what we have to do, how many points we need to stay up.
"We have five more points and a much better goal difference than ATM FA with two games left, so a point is enough, but we want to win."
Only more inept displays by ATM FA and the winless Sime Darby have prevented Sarawak from falling into the relegation zone.
Grbesic is confident they will survive.
He said: "We have good players like (former West Ham trainee) Billy Mehmet, (former Australian international) Ryan Griffiths and Joseph Kalang Tie.
"It won't be easy because we have not won for so long, and the LionsXII are a good young team who are unbeaten at home for good reason. But we are hungry to win and I expect my players to show that desire on the pitch."
- DAVID LEE