Kelantan favourites for MSL relegation as Sarawak try not to slip up
Two relegation battles at opposite ends of the country will dominate the final matchday of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) season on Saturday night, as Kelantan and Sarawak scrap to avoid following Penang into the second division in 2018.
Sarawak, who are one point above the drop zone, host T-Team in Kuching. Kelantan, below them, make a road trip to the Hang Jebat Stadium to face Melaka United.
And ahead of next weekend's Malaysia Cup final between the pair, Kedah are at home to MSL champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) in Alor Setar.
Here are three thoughts as the curtain comes down on the 2017 MSL season:
1. Disorganised teams must get act together
Sarawak and Kelantan were among the teams who initially had their club licensing applications rejected by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM). It was only a few days ago that the clubs' administration officials scrambled to send in their requests. A lack of organisation led to their predicament.
Despite fulfilling FAM's club licensing criteria, Penang were relegated with three matches remaining after splashing the cash on sub-par, foreign talent.
If clubs start putting in more effort towards planning, and building a strong financial structure, it will improve their fortunes on-and-off the field, and attract the kind of quality players who are motivated to perform.
For Sarawak and Kelantan, the first step towards building a more secure future is to simply win on Saturday night, while hoping for each other's downfall.
2. Kedah look to keep another clean sheet
Hosting JDT will give Kedah a chance to size up the league champions before the 2017 Malaysia Cup final, while ending their home campaign on a memorable note.
The Red Eagles have not conceded a goal in 450 minutes at their Darul Aman Stadium.
If they can keep the Southern Tigers at bay, it would give them a massive psychological advantage against opponents who have scored in their last 15 games.
Coach Nidzam Adzha can use this as motivation as he looks to get the best out of his players in the JDT double-header.
But keeping a shutout won't be easy against a free-flowing side who have scored 50 league goals this season.
3. Worst crowds in four years
This year's MSL has seen the lowest crowd attendances in four seasons, with an average of just over 7,000 fans per game.
Spectators staying away boils down to two factors.
Firstly, it's because supporters don't see the need to travel to the stadium if there is a live telecast that they can enjoy from the comfort of their home, or at a restaurant or café.
Secondly, Local fans can be found guilty of shying away from games if their team are on a downward spiral.
Rather than cheering them on during a lean spell, they usually wait for their beloved club to notch a couple of wins before turning up in numbers.
This also applies to national teams, with fans camping outside Shah Alam Stadium to buy tickets to watch the Malaysia under-22 team, who claimed the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games' silver medal in August.
In contrast, the senior team, who are winless this year under Nelo Vingada, played in front of fewer than 5,000 fans in an Asian Cup qualifier against Hong Kong in Melaka in September.
With no domestic football for the next 10 weeks, the hope is that fans will turn up in full force to catch their teams in action on Saturday night.
It is also up to the Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership to review the meagre turnout this year, and figure how they can entice the masses for the 2018 campaign.
Certainly, confusing and chaotic scheduling hasn't helped win over spectators.
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.