Malaysia Cup: Sathianathan's suddenly all cautious

In January, ATM FA coach B Sathianathan described his LionsXII counterpart as a wily fox.

Then, in April, the 55-year-old likened his team to the streak-busting Chicago Bulls of the NBA, after his men ended Kelantan's 42-match unbeaten home record.

At the time, ATM were about to try and break through the LionsXII's Jalan Besar fortress. But they failed in the end, going down 3-1 to the eventual Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions.

Curiously, the former Malaysia coach is now playing possum, ahead of Saturday's clash with V Sundramoorthy's side in the first leg of the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Speaking to The New Paper on Wednesday, he said: "If we lose by only one goal, it will be a bonus. Anything more than that and we will have a mountain to climb in the second leg."

Perhaps the experienced Malaysian coach was playing mind games, or maybe not.

Sathianathan insisted his cautious approach was down to the number of key players nursing injuries, including defenders K Reuben, Irwan Fadzli Idrus and Amirizwan Taj Tajuddin, although he admitted they would all travel here tomorrow.

Argentine playmaker Bruno Martelotto is also nursing a groin injury.

ATM pipped the LionsXII in the semifinals of the Malaysia Cup last season when they went through on penalties, after the Singapore side had led for much of the second leg.

Sathianathan, who has not beaten the LionsXII in regulation in four previous attempts, is bemoaning the timing of the match.

"In addition to the injuries, we have to play the LionsXII when they have just found their form in the Malaysia Cup," he said, referring to the MSL champions' victories over Perak, Sarawak and Kedah, after collecting just one point in their first three Group D games.

"We are just not as strong as we were last season, and even then we could only draw with the LionsXII in Singapore and needed an injury-time equaliser at Selayang before winning on penalties to qualify for the Malaysia Cup final.

Psychological edge "The LionsXII should have a psychological edge over us."

Despite being top scorers so far in the tournament with 15 goals in six games, Sathianathan remained wary of Jalan Besar's artificial pitch, which has been one of his biggest bugbears.

He said: "Football is meant to be played on grass. If it's meant to be played on artificial turf, then all the big clubs like Manchester United would be using it.

"It's definitely not easy to play on that kind of surface. We tried to play at the one in Wisma FAM for two days, but the players said it was different, and they complained of pain in their joints.

"So we will train on grass in Subang, and, hopefully, we can get used to the Jalan Besar pitch after Friday's training session.

"Yes, we score a lot of goals, but we concede a lot, too (12 in the Malaysia Cup so far). Don't forget, the LionsXII beat us twice, so the score is 4-1 (ATM lost 1-0 at home) to them this season."

There is one source of optimism for the Gladiators in the form of their seemingly unstoppable striker, Marlon James.

In addition to clinching the Golden Boot in the MSL with 16 goals, the powerful 36-year-old forward from St Vincent and the Grenadines has poached four more in the Malaysia Cup.

Crucially, James has scored once in three of the last four encounters against LionsXII; indeed, he is the only ATM player to score against the Singapore side.

Sathianathan said: "I sure hope he continues his scoring form and gets one more on Saturday.

"If we don't lose too badly, we have a chance in Selayang next Friday."

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