By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 2-2 Johor Darul Takzim II
(Hafiz Sujad 1’, Faris Ramli 83’) (Yusof Abidin 10’, Akmal Ishak 66’)
SINGAPORE, 26 August 2014: Despite their best efforts, the LionsXII only managed a draw against Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) II on Tuesday evening at Jalan Besar Stadium.
A late Faris Ramli goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for the developmental side after the visitors had turned an early deficit around in their favour.
Head coach Fandi Ahmad made three changes from last Saturday’s defeat in Pasir Gudang. Raihan Rahman came in for Madhu Mohana at right back, while Nazrul Nazari and Khairul Nizam got their first starts of this Malaysia Cup campaign.
It was the latter duo who seized the opportunities and impressed as they worked in tandem to create the opening goal after just 38 seconds on the clock.
Nizam raced onto Nazrul’s through ball and squared it across goal for Hafiz Sujad, who benefited from a ricochet off a JDT II defender’s clearance, to put the LionsXII fans into ecstasy early.
They were however brought back down to earth nine minutes later. JDT II attacker Aznie Taib scuffed his volley following a diagonal ball from the right, but teammate Yusof Abidin was at the right place at the right time to dispatch a superb finish past Izwan Mahbud to equalise.
Searching for their first win in their campaign, the LionsXII were stung in action as they had dominated most of the proceedings up to that point.
However, they were unable to trouble Zulfadhli Mohamed in the JDT II goal as the game continued.
Shahfiq Ghani and Isa Halim lashed speculative long shots wide, while Safuwan Baharudin was unable to turn the former’s flick-on home from Raihan’s corner.
Nizam then flicked his header over from Zulfahmi Arifin’s long freekick, while the latter was unable to keep his free kick down after the former was brought down just outside the box.
Meanwhile the visitors tried to play on the counter and nearly reaped dividends on the half-hour mark when Aznie was played through on goal. Fortunately, Safuwan was on hand to stop the attacker in his tracks.
Head coach Fandi made a change to try and improve his side’s fortunes, bringing on Sufian Anuar and in place of Nizam at half time, and Faris for Nazrul a few minutes after the restart.
The pair injected some urgency in the attacking third but the JDT II centre-back pairing of Jose Manuel Carrasco and Nicolas Delmonte proved a tad too hard to crack.
Growing in confidence by the minute, the visitors pushed forward and forced the LionsXII defenders into a couple of last-ditch challenges.
Izwan was called into action twice; first to hold an Aznie close-range shot, before tipping away a dangerous Zaquan Adha corner.
There was a warning on 64 minutes when Syafiq Shahruddin finished off See Kok Luen’s through ball, but was adjudged offside by the linesman. However the LionsXII failed to heed it and conceded just two minutes later.
A lethal counter-attack saw Zaquan setting Syafiq racing down the right and the latter produced the perfect cross for substitute Akmal Ishak to head home past a stranded Izwan at the far post.
There were still 20-odd minutes to rectify the situation as the LionsXII piled on the pressure on the visitors’ goal.
Gabriel Quak replaced the tiring Shakir Hamzah and immediately took charge of set-piece duties, but Sufian was unable to turn home two of Quak’s deliveries.
Zulfahmi then fizzed a shot straight at Zulfadhli, before the linesman overruled referee Samsudin Ibrahim’s penalty call with the offside flag after Faris was brought down in the box.
Seven minutes from time, LionsXII finally got the lifeline they craved for. Sufian’s right-wing cross was half-cleared onto the path of Faris, whose left-footed drive was spilled into goal by Zulfadhli.
The stage was set for a grandstand finish as Afiq Yunos’s 88th-minute header from a Safuwan knock-on looked destined for the top corner, but the JDT II custodian somehow managed to claw the effort past the post.
Safuwan then lashed just wide from an acute angle before the full-time whistle went off shortly after.
The draw meant the LionsXII are still in contention to qualify for the knockout stages, but they will now need six points from the remaining two games.
LionsXII: Izwan Mahbud (GK); Raihan Rahman, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah (Gabriel Quak 67’); Isa Halim, Zulfahmi Arifin; Nazrul Nazari (Faris Ramli 53’), Shahfiq Ghani, Hafiz Sujad; Khairul Nizam (Sufian Anuar 46’)
Unused subs: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Aqhari Abdullah, Syafiq Zainal, Madhu Mohana.