GEORGE TOWN: Minnows Penang could not have asked for tougher assignments in their quest to qualify for the Malaysia Cup competition.
Under the new competition format, the bottom-placed Super League team at the midway mark (11 matches) will miss out on the 16-team tournament.
Sarawak, on six points, are occupying the bottom spot on goal difference from Penang.
The good news for the Panthers is that they have played one match fewer than the Crocs, who wrap up their first-round fixtures with a home tie against Perak on May 18.
The bad news for Penang is that their two remaining games are against the top two sides – Johor Darul Ta’zim on Friday and Felda United (May 18).
Coach Manzoor Azwira has urged everybody connected to the Penang team to believe in miracles, beginning with the tie against JDT.
Selangor are the only local team to have come away from the Larkin Stadium with a point this year, after earning a 1-1 draw on the opening day of the season.
Manzoor wants his players to believe that Penang can rise to the occasion to save their skin at the Southern Tigers’ den.
“Malaysia Cup qualification is at stake ... we have our backs to the wall now,” said Manzoor.
“There’s no room for failures in the next two games. We must get a positive result at Larkin ... at least a draw to earn some breathing space in the table.”
Penang have only won once in nine attempts – a 4-1 victory over Pahang at the City Stadium back in February.
Former international Manzoor, who took over the reins as Penang coach from Brazilian Jacksen Tiago last month, believes that anything is possible in football if the players can maintain their discipline in carrying out the right tactical plan.
He stopped short of admitting that Penang would defend in numbers to frustrate the feared JDT attack, led by Argentine pair Juan Lucero and Pereyra Diaz.
“It will be suicidal if we play an open game against JDT because they are close to invincible at home,” said Manzoor.
“We must be solid defensively, and cut out silly mistakes at the back. We must also be sharp up front because there will not be many scoring opportunities against a strong team like JDT.”
Manzoor will welcome back his centreback Brent Griffiths from injury. The Australian is expected to go straight into the starting line-up as his replacement, Darwira Sazan, will serve a one-match suspension tonight.
JDT head into the Penang match on a high after booking their spot in next week’s FA Cup final with a 4-3 aggregate triumph over Kedah. The Southern Tigers defeated Kedah 3-1 at home in the semi-final second leg last Saturday.
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