By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 0-0 Sarawak FA
SINGAPORE, 14 June 2014: Despite a dominant performance, the LionsXII were unable to claim a win in their penultimate home game of the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) season as Sarawak FA held them to a goalless draw.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad made four changes to the line-up which started against Kelantan FA the last time out; Shakir Hamzah and Khairul Amri recovered from their respective injuries to reclaim their starting spots, Safuwan Baharudin returned from suspension, while Nazrul Nazari was slotted in after a strong performance as a substitute four days ago.
Gabriel Quak was given the nod to play an advanced role just behind Khairul, and that move nearly reaped dividends right after the first whistle.
Faris Ramli’s cross from the left created chaos inside the Sarawak box and caught out goalkeeper Fadzley Rahim; however, Gabriel’s resulting shot was hacked off the line by a Sarawak defender.
It was not the best first half-hour for the LionsXII after that though as they struggled to create chances in front of goal.
Sarawak had a couple of chances to score, but Ryan Griffiths’ free kick went straight to Izwan Mahbud and S Chanturu’s close-range shot was charged down by both Faritz Hameed and Raihan Rahman.
Their best chance came on 36 minutes when Griffiths got his head to a long freekick, but his effort was kept out well by Izwan.
The LionsXII settled in well in the final 15 minutes of the first half and perhaps should have gone ahead on the stroke of half time.
Baihakki Khaizan slammed a shot in from close range after a melee inside the Sarawak box, but his effort was denied due to an infringement by Khairul in the build-up.
The Singaporean side came out after the break determined to get a goal as they created a series of chances in the first five minutes. However, they were unable to finish them off.
Headers from Amri and Faris failed to trouble Fadzley much, while Safuwan’s long-range shot stung the Sarawak custodian’s hands but stubbornly refused to enter the goal.
Struggling to break down the Crocs defence, coach Fandi decided to introduce Shahfiq Ghani into the fray to replace Gabriel five minutes into the second half.
That nearly proved to be an inspired change as Shahfiq’s curling free kick was palmed away by Fadzley.
There was another opportunity just after the hour mark but both Khairul and Faris failed to make any contact on Shakir Hamzah’s tantalising cross.
Despite continuing to dominate possession and create chances in front of goal, the LionsXII failed to put the ball past the Sarawak keeper.
Nazrul Nazari’s volley was cleared off the line, while Safuwan lashed over via Faritz’s cutback.
Sufian Anuar and Aqhari Abdullah were introduced but made little impact. Faris Ramli had one last chance deep into injury time, but his shot from a tight angle was well blocked by a Sarawak defender.
In the end, the visitors held on for the valuable point as the LionsXII was left to rue yet another missed opportunity to claim a win at home.
Fandi: We just can’t finish the game off
At the post-match press conference, coach Fandi expressed his disappointment at not being able to get all three points.
“Whether luck or not, we just simply cannot finish the game off,” he said.
“We’ve been doing a lot of drills, but we can’t find the goal. It’s the same with some of our other games as well. There was no excuse for us not to win tonight. Our defenders and goalkeeper did very well, but we had some bad decision making in the attacking third.”
Despite the less-than-satisfactory result, he lavished praise on Baihakki and Raihan’s performances.
“I’ve been happy with Bai since he came back,” he noted.
“I’m very happy with our players’ performing their defensive duties and that we did not concede. Raihan lost the ball too many times, but he was always there to slide, tackle and cover the ground.”
Meanwhile his Sarawak counterpart Robert Alberts expressed his satisfaction at getting a point away from home.
“It’s a very good point,” he said.
“It’s not easy playing here. The LionsXII dominated in the second half and had some good moves, but we defended well and did not give them much space. That’s a plus point for my team.”
The LionsXII stay in eighth position after this result, with 19 points from 25 games.
There are three games left in this MSL season. Their next league assignment will see them go away to Shah Alam to take on Selangor PKNS, with the game to be played on Tuesday, June 17th.
Fans can catch the game ‘LIVE’ on Starhub Channel 201 from 8.30pm onwards.
Do check back on the LionsXII’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates regarding the game. Go LionsXII go!