By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 0-1 Sime Darby FC
(Syukur Saidin 45’+2)
SINGAPORE, 12 April 2014: The LionsXII’s home woes continued on Saturday night as they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat on the hands of promoted side Sime Darby FC.
A lack of cutting edge upfront proved to be their downfall again as a solitary Syukur Saidin goal condemned them to a disappointing result in front of 7,198 home fans.
After a victorious night in Selayang last week, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad chose to keep faith with the same starting eleven with Madhu Mohana keeping his place at the heart of defence.
Upfront, Khairul Amri was supported by the likes of Shahfiq Ghani, Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari. Despite the attacking-minded line-up, the home side found little joy trying to break into the final third.
Just like their previous home matches, the LionsXII managed to dominate possession early on but were unable to get significant shots at goal.
Faris had an early penalty shout turned away; Firdaus Kasman lashed wide from 20 yards; Amri’s close-range shot was deflected away from goal by Sime Darby captain Juzaili Samion, while Shahfiq’s set-pieces just could not find their targets.
Shahfiq then curled over before Firdaus forced Sime Darby keeper Redzuan Harun into the first save of the night with a low grounder from just outside the box, while the pace of Faris and Nazrul did not provide much penetration for the Singaporeans down the flanks.
Soaking up the early pressure, the visitors settled into the game and had a couple of decent shots themselves. Their strong resistance paid off as they duly silenced the hosts with virtually the last kick of the first half.
Subsitute Fahrul Hazli’s out swinging corner was met by a superb side foot volley from Syukur Saidin which left LionsXII keeper Izwan Madhud rooted to the spot.
It was a sucker punch for Fandi’s boys and the gaffer reacted by bringing on playmaker Zulfahmi Arifin for Firdaus. The 22-year-old went straight into the thick of things as he lashed wide just outside the box.
It was a good 15 minutes or so for the reigning Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions as their persistently forced the visitors into some rearguard action.
Shahfiq played a clever one-two with Nazrul before having his shot deflected into Redzuan’s grateful arms while Faris thumped just over after bamboozling his way through the middle.
Further substitutions were made in the form of Sufian Anuar and Hafiz Sujad for the ineffective duo of Shahfiq and Nazrul, but they were unable to keep up that pressure.
Led by their skipper Juzaili, the Sime Darby defence repelled all the aerial balls that came their way. Despite Coach Fandi pushing Captain Safuwan Baharudin into an attacking position, they were unable to trouble Redzuan much.
Faris provided one of the few sparks with yet another lung-bursting run down the middle, but his fierce shot was well parried away by the Sime Darby keeper.
The LionsXII could have stolen a point three minutes into injury time, but Sufian’s header following a melee in the box was well hacked off the line by a Sime Darby defender.
There was one last chance to salvage something moments later after Shakir Hamzah was brought down at the edge of the box, but Zulfahmi’s free kick went straight to Redzuan.
In the end, it was the visitors who stole an impressive result while the LionsXII were left to lick their wounds after yet another disappointing result at home.
Fandi: Some players have to buck up
At the post-match press conference, Coach Fandi cut a desolate figure as he reflected on his side’s failings in front of goal.
“It was a disappointing result,” he said bluntly.
“We had enough chances to win the game but the players’ first touch was poor. We could have easily gotten two to three goals if that was better.
We’re very inconsistent and there’re some players who have to buck up. They did not show enough guts and aggression.”
With another home game coming up in three days’ time, the 51-year-old hopes that his boys can start to make Jalan Besar Stadium a fortress again.
“We should not give up,” he said defiantly.
“I said before this game that three of our next four games are at home. Whether we’re playing big or small teams, we have to collect points.”
Meanwhile opposite counterpart Ismail Zakaria was happy that his plan to play a compact game paid off, although he admitted Lady Luck played a big factor.
“We tried to play compact, but it wasn’t easy,” he said.
“We got lucky tonight by scoring an early goal and that was a morale-booster. In the second half, I know the LionsXII will try to get crosses in, so I told my boys to drop deep and stop them from crossing. They still managed to do so, but our defenders were able to do the job and clear the danger.”
Despite holding off the LionsXII for this delightful result, the Sime Darby gaffer was left impressed by the Singaporean’s never-say-die spirit.
“The LionsXII have a group of boys who is mentally strong and full of character,” he shared.
“They have the desire to win and that’s very important to build up a team. Many times I’ve seen other teams give up in the last 10 minutes when they’re a goal down.”
The LionsXII will host high-flying Pahang FA in their next MSL game and that game will be played on next Tuesday, April 15th at 7.45pm.
Do continue to come down to support the boys as they aim to take down the current league leaders!