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LionsXII return to MSL summit with superb 3-1 win over ATM FA

LionsXII return to MSL summit with superb 3-1 win over ATM FA

LionsXII 3-1 ATM FA

(Shahfiq Ghani 27’, 72’, Shahril Ishak 45 + 2’) (Marlon James 61’)
By Kenneth Tan

SINGAPORE, 20 April 2013: It was a real test of the LionsXII’s title-winning credentials.

The duo of Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin, which was widely regarded as South East Asia’s finest centre-back partnership, was ruled out of the game due to suspension troubles.

Coupled to that, vice-captain Hariss Harun was rated as ‘doubtful’ after twisting his knee in the team’s final training session on Friday.

With Johor Darul Takzim taking over at the Malaysian Super League (MSL) summit after a 1-0 win over Pahang FA on Friday, the onus was on the Singaporean side to re-claim the pole position.

And they duly did in style – a superb 3-1 win over fourth-place ATM FA in front of 7,198 home fans.

The LionsXII got a pre-match confidence booster as Hariss Harun shook off his injury woes to start alongside Shakir Hamzah at the heart of defence.

In midfield, Izzdin Shafiq earned the nod over the more experienced Hafiz Sujad to start alongside Isa Halim.

Meanwhile coach V Sundramoorthy opted for the speedy duo of Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari on the wings, with captain Shahril Ishak supporting lone forward Shahfiq Ghani.

It was the Lions XII who had the first chance on 2 minutes after Shahril was brought down at the edge of the box, but Shahfiq’s freekick did not manage to clear the wall.

Hariss then nodded wide from Shahfiq’s cross a minute later.

ATM FA took a while to settle down as they carved their first opening on 10 minutes – Christie Jayaseelan firing just over via Marlon James’s backheel.

With 11 goals in the MSL so far, there was little doubt the LionsXII defence gave extra attention to the latter’s endeavors.

Being marked out by the attention of two red shirts, he played the supporting cast again by setting up Shukor Adan who should have done better than blazing over from just outside the box.

With the defence being taken care of, the LionsXII attackers probably felt at ease to pile on the pressure against the visitors.

Firstly, on 17 minutes, Nazrul showed his electric pace to get onto a long ball before cutting it back for Shahril, whose left-footed grounder was tipped around the post by ATM keeper Farizal Harun.

They strung together their best move at the 26th minute – with Faris producing a blockbuster of a run through the heart of the ATM defence in the build-up, but Shahfiq was adjudged to be offside from Irwan Shah’s resulting cross.

However Shahfiq was not to be left disappointed for long as he duly opened the scoring a minute later.

A superb move saw Isa Halim releasing Shahril down the right before the latter whipped in an inch-perfect ball for Shahfiq to slot home easily beyond the reach of Farizal.

Shaken by the setback, ATM tried to fight back but without avail.

It was frustrating times for the Malaysian side as they began to get frustrated with each minute.

It was clearly shown at the 38th minute where they continued on the play despite Shakir’s injury which riled up the home crowd.

Things will get even worse for them just before half time.

Yet another counter-attacking move saw Shahril releasing Nazrul who looks set to pull the trigger in front of goal before being brought down by Amiridzwan Tajuddin.

There was no doubt to what was the end result – a penalty awarded in favor of LionsXII as captain Shahril coolly sent the keeper the wrong way from 12 yards.

It was the perfect way to go into the break and the Lions XII resumed the second half looking to build on the two-goal lead.

Izzdin nearly capped his debut with a goal on 60 minutes as his 35-yarder nearly caught out Farizal.

However just a minute later, ATM FA found a glimmer of hope through their frustrated hitman James.

A low drilled cross from Jayaseelan evaded everyone in the LionsXII box before landing on the feet of the 36-year-old who could not miss from a yard out.

It initially looked like the home side will throw away their healthy advantage as James nodded just over from Bruno Martelotto’s cross inside the box with Izwan rooted to the spot.

However those worries were truly allayed on 72 minutes.

Faris Ramli went on yet another barnstorming run down the left with an ATM defender just about getting in the way.

The leather soon fell to Shahfiq from 25 yards as he took a touch before curling a grandstand finish over the despairing dive of Farizal.

Raucous celebrations soon followed as the Lions XII duly rode out the remainder of the game to end up 3-1 victors on the night.

Sundram: This is our best performance of the season

It was a smile as wide as it can get, as Sundram reflected on the superb win which extended the 100% home record as well as pushing his side back on top of the MSL table with 27 points.

“I’m on top of the world right now!” he exclaimed at the post-match press conference.

“It’s our best performance of the season, if not one of the best. I didn’t expect beating ATM this manner.

We had our two centre backs out, but the boys really turned up tonight – fighting for every ball, producing great attacks, what more can I ask for?”

The wonderful performance of Shahfiq also did not go unnoticed from the former Singapore forward.

“We all know – the boy’s talented. He takes good set-pieces and is capable of striking a ball very well. It’s essential for us to use him in the home games,” he concluded.

Meanwhile for ATM coach B Sathianathan, he went home a disappointed man.

“We didn’t control the game today and we deserved to lose,” he said bluntly.

However he was gracious in defeat as he pointed out Hariss’ pivotal role in stopping his attack.

“I cannot take the credit away from the LionsXII tonight,” he admitted.

“They played without two key players but Hariss played very well in defence considering his injury. Thus they deserved the three points tonight.”

The Lions XII will next go away to Shah Alam to take on arch-rivals Selangor FA on Saturday, 27th April.

Their next home game against Selangor PKNS, originally arranged for 4th May, has been moved to Monday, 27th May.

Do continue to show your support for the LionsXII as they continue their pursuit for glory!