The chances of Kedah advancing to a third consecutive Malaysia Cup final have taken a hit with key men Liridon Krasniqi and Khairul Helmi Johari expected to be missing from their second-leg semifinal against Felda United on Saturday.
The first leg finished in a 1-1 draw at Jengka last Sunday, leaving the tie poised ahead for the return leg in Alor Setar.
But Kedah head coach Nidzam Adzha will now have to find a way to ease past a resilient Felda without Liridon and Khairul, due to suspension.
"It is bad enough to miss two of my players for Saturday's game. But that's not all. I have another headache because I've got another four regulars with bookings too," Nidzam told The Star.
Ken Ilso, Sandro Da Silva, Rizal Ghazali and Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik are the quartet who will miss the final -- should Kedah make it -- if they're booked on Saturday.
Nidzam is aware that B. Satiananthan's men will come fired up after Hadin Azman's crucial goal last weekend.
"The contest is far from over. Felda are real fighters and they lived up to their name with a late equaliser," Nidzam said.
"I think it is a fair result. I know my boys can get the job done at home. It will be difficult, especially for the players with bookings. But this is the risk we have to take."
To add fuel to this anticipated clash, Felda United defender Shukor Adan says the defending champions are the ones who should be feeling the pressure.
"For me, it is Kedah who should be worried because it is their title to lose. For Felda, it is all about going out there and enjoying the game," Shukor told Berita Harian.
"There are not many players in the Felda team who have experienced the Malaysia Cup final. So to motivate themselves, they have to treat this game like a final."
Kedah could also be distracted about rumours that their young striker Syafiq Ahmad could be headed south to Johor Darul Ta'zim next season. He was pictured this week with the club's Johor Crown Prince owner, with the photo published on the club's official Facebook page.
But for now, Nidzam will need Syafiq to shift his focus solely on the upcoming 90 minutes in the semifinals.
The onus could fall on the 21-year-old to lead the Kedah forward line in the final -- if they get past Felda, and Ilso picks up a yellow card in the process.