PETALING JAYA: Melaka played without key players but still stood tall by holding fancied Johor Darul Ta’zim to a 1-1 draw in their Super League match at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka.
The Mousedeer should have been steamrolled in the absence of Nigerian striker Ifedayo Olusegun, Ghanaian winger Emmanuel Oti, leftback Syazwan Andik and centreback Fadhli Shas but they were tactically disciplined, defended well and found ways to frustrate the marauding Southern Tigers.
It was JDT who powered their way through for the first goal via midfielder Leandro Velasquez in the 27th minute when the Argentinian finished off a superb move involving him, winger Safawi Rasid and Argentinian striker Fernando Forestieri.
But 12 minutes later, Melaka got their equaliser through Sony Norde when the Haitian winger capitalised on some poor man-marking and shot past JDT goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.
In the second half, JDT went on the hunt for goals but Melaka defended stoutly until the final whistle.
Centreback Ahmad Haziq Puad and midfielder Syukri Baharun stepped up for Melaka with their work rate and defensive discipline.
Melaka’s interim coach Asri Ninggal was happy with the point, especially against a formidable side.
“On paper, JDT are much better, but credit to my boys for going all out. They were focused, disciplined and had the same attitude until the end of the game,” he said.
“JDT usually have good ball possession but we did our homework on that. My boys were motivated by the crowd even though there were more JDT fans. My boys wanted to show they can play football too.”
When asked about the players who replaced the missing keymen, Asri said, “The players who were given a chance to play had to show their worth to the team. This is their bread and butter, they had to perform and they did.”
Asri also said Bergson Da Silva’s ankle injury in the first half, which saw him being taken off, did help Melaka a little as JDT lost a little of their sting in attack.
Da Silva is the league’s top scorer with 13 goals.
Meanwhile, JDT coach Benjamin Mora said adding a point to their tally was better than a defeat.
“Melaka were well-shaped at the beginning of the game. They were attacking with three to four players up front.
“We couldn’t play our game from the beginning,” he said.
“In the second half, we played in their half but they made it difficult for us to play. Playing away is always challenging. We gave our best and fought hard. We are not comfortable with a draw but it’s better than nothing.”
JDT are top of the league with 23 points from nine matches and remain unbeaten, while Melaka are ninth with nine points from nine games.