Newly promoted Melaka United clinch Malaysia Premier League crown
Top flight longevity will be the main target of Melaka United next season after the tiny state capped a stupendous season by clinching the Premier League title, with a 1-1 draw against closest rivals Johor Darul Ta'zim II on Friday night.
The trophy comes after the Mousedeers had confirmed their return to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) where they last competed in the 2006-07 season.
Yashir Pinto had given Melaka the lead in the 76th minute against JDT II, but they were pegged back deep into injury time, courtesy of Rafael Bonfim's equaliser.
Melaka have lost only once in the league all season, with 15 victories to their name so far.
The Premier League title was also the club's first since the 2005-06 season when they were promoted to the MSL, only to be relegated in the next campaign. Melaka plunged deeper into the abyss soon after, as they slid from the Premier League to the third-tier FAM League, where they competed for five seasons from 2011 before returning to the second division in 2015.
For Mat Azan Mat Aris, who took over the side in 2014, the challenge now will be to ensure that his mixture of talented locals and clinical foreigners up front maintain the same intensity among the big boys, who include newly crowned MSL champions JDT. The Southern Tigers wrapped up their third consecutive title on Friday night with a 3-0 home victory over Terengganu.
After their solitary 2-1 defeat to Perlis in May, Melaka went on a nine-game winning spree, largely fueled by the prowess of Yugoslavia-born hitman Ilija Spasojevic, who scored 17 goals in that period.
Like JDT, Melaka have been head and shoulders above the rest in all departments, scoring 46 goals and conceding just 21.
They will next face PKNS FC, who replaced JDT II in second with a 1-0 win over Armed Forces FA on Friday night.
Other Premier League results saw Goran Jerkovic and Alex Smith score as Negeri Sembilan edged Kuala Lumpur 2-1, while DRB-Hicom held Sabah to a 2-2 draw. Perlis were 2-1 winners against Sime Darby.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.