JOHOR BARU: Johor are on a roll and reckon that things can only get better as they bid to gain promotion to Premier I next year.
Having garnered maximum points from their three league matches so far, Johor also have a healthy 4-1 advantage over club side Kelantan TNB from the FA Cup first round first-leg match.
And tomorrow, the Scorpions hope to confirm their second round ticket in the FA Cup competition when they entertain TNB In the return leg at the Larkin Stadium. This will be the first time Johor will be playing home this season.
Johor FA secretary Wan Nizam Wan Omar believes Johor should have no problem booking a place in the second round against Police next month.
“It has been a good start for us this season. Although we have yet to play the big names in Premier II, it has been a very encouraging start nonetheless,” said Wan Nizam after Johor's latest win in the league – a 2-1 victory over Armed Forces at the TLDM Stadium in Lumut on Sunday.
“This team is quite balanced in every department. Most importantly, we are improving with every match. This is something which will stand us in good stead for the tougher matches ahead.”
Johor also seem to be reaping a good harvest from their Australian imports Daniel Watkins and Gabriel Mendez. Watkins, especially is in terrific form, having scored six goals in four matches, including a hat-trick in the 5-2 win over newcomers JPS Kelantan in a league match on Feb 16.
Local ace Farid Ideris has also been scoring regularly, netting four goals so far in as many matches.
“Our target is to win the Premier II title and gain promotion to Premier I. It has been a good start although our real test will come when we play favourites like Negri Sembilan, Public Bank, Selangor MPPJ and Kuala Lumpur,” said Wan Nizam.
Johor's budget this year is a modest RM1.8 million, an increase of RM300,000 from last year and they have registered a small squad of only 18 players.
The Scorpions are best remembered as the first team to achieve a grand double by winning the Premier I title and the prestigious Malaysia Cup in 1991. Sadly, it has been downhill for the team since then.
The only high after the double was becoming the first Premier II side to win the FA Cup in 1998. A year later Johor won the Premier II title to gain promotion to Premier I.
However, Johor lasted only two seasons in the big league and have been languishing in the lower division ever since. Last year, Johor hired well-known German Karl Heinz Weigang to coach them but the former national and Perak coach could not achieve much.
Johor only managed a sixth place. Weigang has been retained for another season this year and Johor believe they are now ready to throw in their challenge to win the Premier II title.
Wan Nizam said: “With an average age of 22, we showed encouraging performances in the second half of the league last year. We have retained Daniel and Gabriel for the new season and they have not disappointed us so far.”
The Australian duo joined Johor in mid-season last year, with Watkins scoring eight goals in seven matches.
For the new season, Johor have welcome back former Malaysia Cupper Mohd Zakir Othman, former Negri Sembilan Chempaka players P. Gunasekaran and P. Sivanathan and former Malay Mail player K. Ganesh.
Also in their stable this year are three former Johor FC players – Mustaza Maah Mustapa, Mohd Riduwan Maon and Syukri Ismail.