www.nst.com.myONLY a bad patch will deny KL Hockey Club (KLHC) from retaining their Malaysian Hockey League (MHL) Premier Division title but contenders Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and Sapura are not throwing in the towel just yet as they, too, want to win this season.
TNB, after a 2-2 draw with Maybank in their opening match, have notched two straight wins over Nur Insafi-MBI (5-2) and UniKL (3-2) and are second in the standings with seven points.
The club, however, must thank their striker Faizal Saari, who has scored eight of the 10 goals for their impressive run.
As for Sapura, the former champions, comprising mostly ex-internationals, bounced back from an embarrassing 5-0 loss to KLHC in the first week by recording wins over UniKL (3-1) and Maybank (4-2).
As TNB and Sapura need points to keep pace with KLHC, the match between both teams today in Bukit Jalil is expected to be an explosive affair.
Sapura consultant Stephen Van Huizen said his team need to record as many wins in the first round of the competition to remain in-contention for at least the top four positions.
"KLHC and TNB are the top two teams in the league but we are not far behind them. We need to collect as many points in the first round so that we will not feel the pressure when second round starts," said Stephen at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Friday.
"Most teams have yet to get their act together at this early stage but they will get better soon and we need to be prepared when that happens.
"It is important that we do well now, so we can plan our strategies for the second round. Our main target is to finish in the top four bracket for TNB Cup qualification but of course we are also aiming for the league title."
Sapura's imports Muhammad Imran and Lee Jung Seong, who both had average opening games, are gradually making progress and as for former national captain S. Kuhan, the penalty corner specialist is expected to play a more influential role in the second round.
"Kuhan is working hard to regain his touch and fitness. We played him for a few minutes in two matches so far to help him rediscover his game. Kuhan has not been playing regularly due to work commitments," Stephen added.
TNB coach Nor Saiful Zaini, meanwhile, said his team need to keep winning to keep pace with KLHC.
"They are the best side in the league but we too can make impression by maintaining our form and hopefully, narrow the gap with them.
"We, however, need to put extra effort on our finishing as we tend to make things difficult for ourselves in matches by not taking our chances," said Nor Saiful. By Ajitpal Singh