Kelantan players celebrating a goal during their FA Cup match against PKNS FC last month. They're atop the Super League table after six matches with 12 points from four wins. - Filepic
GEORGE TOWN: Kelantan coach Steve Darby feels that it will be a struggle for the Red Warriors to hold on to their top spot in the Super League.
Kelantan replaced Terengganu at the top of the standings on Saturday following the 2-1 away win over Lions XII at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.
But Darby, whose team are also involved in the AFC Cup, reckons that it is going to be tough sustaining a strong challenge in both competitions. Kelantan are also through to the FA Cup semi-finals, where they face Felda United in a two-leg semi-final in May.
“It feels nice to be back on top of the Super League but the problem is to ensure that we stay there despite our tough schedule,” said Darby on Sunday.
“The other teams will play nine matches in the next 41 days while both Selangor and Kelantan will have 14 matches because of the AFC Cup commitments. It will not be a problem for a team like JDT (Johor Darul Ta’zim), who have 25 internationals and two coaches. But I am operating with just 19 players in my squad. It will be physically challenging for Kelantan.”
The Englishman admitted that his side rode their luck to come away from Singapore with all three points.
The Red Warriors were on the receiving end for much of the first half and trailed 0-1 at half time. But two opportunistic strikes from Ahmad Fakri Saarani and Francis Doe, the second right at the death, handed Kelantan an unlikely win.
“To be honest, we were lucky to win. We did not play well in the first half and I would have been happy with a draw.
“I am pleased with the way my players took advantage of the couple of defensive mistakes to score. We were unfortunate not to win in the matches we controlled against PKNS and Perak, but it was our turn to be lucky against the Lions.
“The home side played better because they are well adapted to their artificial pitch. I am not complaining about the pitch, which allows wonderful football, but it takes time for the visiting teams to get used to the different playing condition.”
The only couple of sour notes for Kelantan are the sending off of Shakir Ali, which will see him miss the big game against Malaysia Cup champions Pahang on Saturday, and the continued absence of Lebanese striker Mohammad Ghaddar, who is still nursing a groin injury.
Lions XII coach Fandi Ahmad was puzzled with how his team lost a match which they had dominated for long periods.
“We were in control but I have to give due respect to Kelantan for being experienced enough to take their chances well for the victory.
“I am disappointed to lose because both the goals we conceded were defensive mistakes. We lost concentration and there was no communication between the defenders and goalkeeper. We will now look forward to prepare for our next match against Sarawak (in Kuching on Saturday),” said Fandi.