Negeri Sembilan will have to plug a big hole in their defence for the Super League clash against leaders Kelantan on Sunday.
National centreback Norhafiz Zamani Misbah is out with a knee injury sustained during a friendly against Armed Forces in Paroi on Tuesday and the Deer will certainly feel his absence.
But coach Mohd Azraai Khor Abdullah is not pressing the panic button.
Azraai, who led Kedah to back-to-back treble titles in 2007 and 2008, has a contingency plan in place.
“I have pencilled in big Maha (G. Mahathevan) to replace Norhafiz in defence. It is a big match and to lose a key player of Norhafiz’s calibre is indeed a big blow,” said Azraai.
“But I’m confident Maha can step in and do well in this position again. He did it against Kelantan in the Charity Shield in January.”
Midfielder-turn-defender Mahathevan was impeccable against the Red Warriors in that match, which Negri won 2-1.
But Azraai was quick to acknowledge that it would be different this time as Mahathevan will have to operate without Norhafiz.
“Maha has progressed well and has even won a call-up to the national team. This will be a big test for him to show what he is capable of,” said Azraai.
Mahathevan is currently with the national team on a playing tour of East Malaysia and the Philippines.
Negri’s seasoned campaigners – Mohd Shukor Adan and Idris Karim – will be back in the squad after missing the Charity Shield through injury.
But all eyes will be on Negeri’s top hitman, Cameroonian striker Jean-Emmanuel Owona, who has scored five goals, including the brace against Kelantan in the Charity Shield.