The LIONSXII theme song

LionsXII let slip lead to lose against Kelantan

LionsXII let slip lead to lose against Kelantan

LionsXII 1-2 Kelantan FA

(Khairul Amri 26’) (Ahmad Fakri 51’, Francis Forkey Doe 90’)

By Kenneth Tan

SINGAPORE, 8 March 2014: It was a heartbreaking night of football for the majority of the 7,137 fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night as the LionsXII squandered a first-half lead to lose 2-1 against visitors Kelantan FA in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).

Despite leading at half time through Khairul Amri’s goal, two defensive errors in the second half proved to be their downfall as they suffered their first home defeat in the league this season.

Despite the majority of his players being involved in the national team’s 3-1 away loss to Oman just 72 hours ago, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad decided to go with seven players who featured in that game.  His faith was rewarded with a dominant attacking display in the first 45 minutes.

Right from the get-go, the Singaporeans played short, crisp passes and went on the attack whenever the opportunity arose. As early as the 2nd minute, there were claims for a penalty when Faris Ramli got entangled in a challenge with Obinna Nwaneri, but the referee waved away the appeals from the LionsXII players.

The 21-year-old had another opportunity minutes later after a superb Amri’s return pass, but his shot was deflected into Kelantan keeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat’s grateful arms.

Amri then lifted a close-range finish wide, while Gabriel Quak saw his shot blocked after a mazy run down the right.

The incessant pressure on the Kelantan goal eventually paid off in the 26th minute, via a flowing move. Faris raced down the left to latch onto a Firdaus Kasman pass, before cutting the ball back for Shahfiq Ghani.

The latter lofted an inch-perfect cross into the path of Amri, who connected with a sweetly-struck first-time volley past Khairul Fahmi’s despairing stretch.

Amri then had the opportunity to double his tally minutes later, but was unable to put his shot on target after being put in the clear by Shahfiq’s defence-splitting pass.

With all the attacking going on, the LionsXII backline held up well, limiting Kelantan dangerman Francis Forkey Doe to a couple of wild long-range attempts – it took 38 minutes for LionsXII custodian Izwan Mahbud to be stretched for the first time in the match, to parry away a Doe shot.

Going into the half-time break one goal ahead, the LionsXII came out looking to build on that advantage in the second half but the visitors managed to find the equalizer just six minutes in.

From an innocuous Tuan Faim clearance, Kelantan winger Ahmad Fakri chased down the ball and slotted home first-time after a poor mix-up between Izwan and his backline.

Coach Fandi reacted by bringing on Zulfahmi Arifin and Hafiz Sujad to replace the jaded duo of Shahfiq and Faris respectively, with the changes injecting new life into the LionsXII attack. However, they were unable to trouble Khairul Fahmi much.

Hafiz saw his cross-shot being palmed away, while Zulfahmi and Firdaus put their long-range attempts over.

Their hopes of grabbing the vital second goal were seemingly lifted when Kelantan attacker Shakir Ali was dismissed for an off-the-ball incident with Afiq 10 minutes from the end.

Safuwan Baharudin then came agonisingly close to finding that on 89 minutes when his header from Zulfahmi’s corner came right off the bar.

However, yet another defensive mistake just a minute later would prove to cost them dear. The LionsXII defence was caught out by a superb Amar Rohidan diagonal ball, with Doe taking advantage of their defensive uncertainty to dribble past Izwan before slotting the ball into the empty net to break the hearts of the home fans.

That proved to be the killer blow which they eventually failed to recover from.

Fandi: We lost concentration

At the post-match press conference, Kelantan coach Steve Darby admitted Lady Luck was on their side while lauding the way his side came back into the game after a poor first half.

“We were lucky,” he said.

“Make no bones about it, I would have been happy with a draw. I’m very pleased with their character and effort; you can’t coach these things. I’ve got some great professionals out there and I don’t just mean the foreigners.

“Everybody was great, including the keeper who was calm in coming out for crosses. Forkey Doe scored with the hardest of his three chances but I don’t care!”

Meanwhile coach Fandi attributed the loss to a lack of communication between his backline.

“We lost concentration at the back,” he lamented.

“There was a miscommunication and we did not play to the whistle (for the second goal). Credit to Kelantan; they were more experienced, played some useful long balls and took their chances well.”

The LionsXII will next travel to Kuching to take on Sarawak FA in their next MSL game and the 51-year-old has set a mission for his side to ‘recover the three points’ that was lost in this game.

“I want to see fighters out there,” he said.

“We’ll go there with the positive mind to try to attack. Now I’m praying for (Khairul) Nizam to be fit; he’s a key player and we need this kind of striker who will dash upfront and fight for every ball.”

The away game against Sarawak FA will be played on next Saturday, March 15th at 8.45pm. Fans can catch the game ‘LIVE’ via 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!