At the time of writing, Melaka United and Penang are most likely to be relegated from the Malaysian Super League, but with five games remaining in the 2017 season, the fight is far from over. Here's a closer look at the remaining fixtures of those fighting for survival.
T-Team – 7th
The Titans’ recent form has been poor as they have only won once in their last seven games in all competitions, including a 6-1 thrashing by JDT. However, they arguably have the easiest run of fixtures, with Pahang (September 30) their only opponents who are above them in the league. With a seven-point cushion between them and the bottom two, coupled with other teams’ run of games, two wins from their five remaining games should be enough for them to secure their Super League status for another season. Besides that, they also have a direct influence on the relegation dogfight with matches against the bottom three teams – Melaka (August 5), Penang (September 20) and Sarawak (October 21).
PKNS – 8th
Just like T-Team, PKNS should be considered safe from the threat of relegation (six points away), but their final five opponents – T-Team (July 26), Perak (August 5), Selangor (September 20), Kelantan (September 30), Felda United (October 21) – are fellow mid-table sides, which can prove to be tricky and might push them towards the skirmish at the bottom. Furthermore, they still have Malaysia Cup commitment. With little to play for in the Malaysia Cup – they are bottom of Group B with a point from three games – new head coach Sven Gartung should consider putting the cup competition aside and focusing on his team’s relegation fight instead.
Kelantan – 9th
The East Coast team have surely been counting their blessing that they have managed to reduce their six-point deduction to three, allowing them to have a five-point buffer above the relegation zone. However, of all the teams in the bottom half of the league table, the Red Warriors have the most worrying form. They have yet to pick a league win after the mid-season break and, since the departure of Mohammed Ghaddar to JDT, have only managed three goals in five league games (though they have scored twice as many goals in three Malaysia Cup games). Speaking of the Malaysia Cup, they are in a good position to reach the knockout rounds, which might complicate their Super League campaign that still includes tough visits to Kedah (July 26) and JDT (September 20). If they do not tread carefully, they might find themselves in deep trouble when they face Melaka, whom they already lost to twice this season, in their final league game.
The Crocs’ next few games are quite interesting as they have their relegation battles against Melaka (July 26) and Penang (August 5) sandwiching difficult Malaysia Cup ties with JDT (July 29) and Selangor (August 2). Obviously, with them sitting just two and five points ahead of Melaka and Penang respectively in the league, it will be in their best interest to sacrifice the Malaysia Cup campaign. Furthermore, after the Penang match, their following two league opponents are high-fliers Pahang and Kedah.
Of the bottom three teams, Melaka might have the best chance of survival. Firstly, they just need beat Sarawak (July 26), whom they defeated 1-0 earlier this season, to climb out of the relegation zone straightaway. Then, their remaining run of fixtures includes out-of-sorts T-Team (August 5) and Kelantan (October 21). If head coach Eduardo Almeida plays his cards right and can take their Malaysia Cup form (two wins, one loss) into the Super League, another top-flight season for his team is not out of the question.
Relegation looks all but confirmed for the Panthers, who have spent the entire season at the bottom of the pack and are five points from safety (theoretically six, with their massively inferior goal difference of -22). If they were to pull off a great escape, Zainal Abidin Hassan must inspire his struggling side to secure morale-boosting results against Pahang (July 26) and Sarawak (August 5) first. At the end of the day after their Sarawak match, we should know whether or not their ensuing fixtures will be dead rubber games.
*Malaysian Super League and Malaysia Cup fixtures may subject to change
(Pictures: Facebook/Melaka United Soccer Association, Facebook/PKNS FC, Facebook/FA Penang)