By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 1-1 PBDKT T-Team
(Safuwan Baharudin 24’) (Nelson San Martin 63’)
SINGAPORE, 29 March 2014: The LionsXII was denied a third win on the trot after being held to a 1-1 draw by PBDKT T-Team at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Skipper Safuwan Baharudin opened the scoring midway through the first half through a rasping long shot, but a superb free kick by T-Team midfielder Nelson San Martin ensured the plucky visitors got a share of the spoils.
Following two morale-boosting wins, the LionsXII came into this game full of confidence and that duly showed in a dominant first-half display.
Shahfiq Ghani found himself at the end of an excellent opportunity just after two minutes but was only able to fire over after T-Team keeper Shahril Sa’ari parried Faris Ramli’s shot.
Despite not enjoying much possession, the visitors limited the LionsXII’s chances in the first 20 minutes.
However they were unable to hold out for long as they conceded the opener just four minutes later.
It started from a Khairul Amri header via Zulfahmi Arifin’s corner which came off the post. Despite Shahril managing to collect Shakir Hamzah’s volley, the defence failed to clear their lines as Safuwan surged in to fire an unerring finish inside the custodian’s near post from 20 yards out.
Safuwan could have found a second goal minutes later, but was only able to head over from Shakir’s cross. Meanwhile Faris forced a save from Shahril from a tight angle after he was picked out by Firdaus Kasman’s excellent diagonal ball.
On the other hand, the visitors were perhaps unlucky to make two enforced substitutions through injuries. That affected their rhythm as they only carved out a solitary chance which Azrul Hazran fired wide.
The Singaporeans held the one-goal lead till half time and should perhaps have extended that four minutes after the restart.
After a shot by Faris came off a T-Team defender, the leather fell to Firdaus who contrived to lash over just in front of goal.
Shahfiq then spurned another gilt-edged opportunity minutes later by flicking his header just wide via Faritz Hameed’s cross.
Those missed opportunities would come back to haunt them as the Titans slowly settled into their game.
There were warning signs when Faritz had to block Patrich Wanggai’s goal-bound shot and San Martin were afforded the luxury to shoot from close range, but the LionsXII failed to heed them.
The visitors duly levelled matters just after the hour mark with San Martin curling a superb free kick over Izwan Mahbud from just outside the box, after Afiq Yunos had brought down Ramzul Zahini.
Coach Fandi reacted to that setback by bringing off the off-form Shahfiq for Madhu Mohana and pushing Safuwan to support the attack. Despite that, the opportunities came largely through set pieces.
Zulfahmi’s deliveries picked out Amri and Madhu, but both were unable to make the openings count.
Faris then raced clear through a rare breakaway and found Safuwan just in front of goal, but the LionsXII skipper somehow prodded wide from three yards out.
The home side pegged the visitors back inside their own half for the final 10 minutes, but was unable to find the elusive winner.
Faris could only find the side netting after Amri’s inward pass, while the latter found himself superbly closed down by Shahril inside the box after Faritz flicked the ball into his path.
Eventually the defending Malaysian Super League champions had to settle for just a point.
Fandi: We need to be more clinical upfront
At the post-match press conference, coach Fandi did not hide his disappointment at failing to collect all three points.
“We played so well in the first half and created chances after chances, but we need to be more clinical upfront,” he said.
“I’ve reminded them (at half time) to go for the kill in the second half if not, the opponents will come back. True enough, it happened. We just lost focus.”
Despite that, he was happy with the display of midfielder Raihan Rahman who started his third consecutive game.
“We need a player with character and someone who is willing to go to the ground,” he said.
“He acts as a wiper in front of the two centre-backs and he made so many sliding challenges in the last three games.”
Meanwhile his counterpart, Azraai Khor, was obviously delighted having stolen a point at Jalan Besar Stadium – a feat which not many away teams have achieved over the past couple of years.
“It was a great show from my boys,” he shared.
“We came all the way here expecting the worst. After the first half which we trailed by a goal, I was telling my boys in the dressing room ‘if you guys really mean it and want to fight, the chance (to fight back) is still open’.
We had to substitute two players in the first half and that was a big setback, but I salute the boys for coming back strongly in the second half. It’s a great achievement for a small team like us to come here and steal a point from the Lions’ den.”
The LionsXII will next travel away to Selayang, Malaysia to take on Sime Darby FC in their next MSL game, and coach Fandi hopes that his side can recover psychologically prior to that.
“I don’t think they can recover so quickly from this in a week. We have to keep motivating them,” he concluded.
The game will be played on next Saturday, April 5th 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!