The LionsXII got back to winning ways last night after a victory against ATM at Jalan Besar Stadium prevented an unprecedented fourth successive defeat in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).
The concerns had surfaced initially because the Malaysian military side had proven a bogey side in the past, having dumped the Singapore outfit from the Malaysia Cup in the previous two seasons.
But coach Fandi Ahmad's side put up an inspired performance to snap their worst-ever run of form in the MSL with a 2-1 triumph against the visitors.
Goals from Khairul Amri and Zulfahmi Arifin in the span of five first-half minutes set the reigning MSL champions on their way, before ATM captain Rezal Zambery pulled one back for his side in the 76th minute.
While the Singapore side remain eighth in the 12-team table after the victory, their 24-point tally means they are now just seven points off third position, occupied by Terengganu with 31 points.
Said Fandi: "What a relief (but) although we won, I was not happy with our performance in the second half.
"We should have killed off the game, but we didn't, and that showed the immaturity of the team.
"We need 90-minute players, not those who last just 45 minutes, which is the reason why we are in the situation we are now."
ATM coach B. Sathianathan also had grounds for concern when he said: "We didn't start well in the first half and got punished for it.
"We created a lot more chances in the second half but, by then, it was already too late."
In a desperate quest for a win, Fandi went for an offensive-minded line-up as he started Shahfiq Ghani in attack to provide a creative spark for strike partner Amri.
Against a leaky ATM defence who had conceded 27 goals in the league prior to last night's game, the 22-year-old forward repaid Fandi's faith with a livewire performance.
He constantly kept the ATM defenders on their toes with his unpredictable movements off the ball and long-range deliveries. It was through one of those deliveries that gave his side the lead on 15 minutes.
His floated corner-kick found Amri in the box, who headed home to send the 5,188-strong crowd into raptures.
Five minutes later, the lead was doubled by the equally impressive Zulfahmi, who switched the ball onto his favoured left foot in the penalty area to curl it past an outstretched Ridzuwan Effendy.
"(They both) did well today but I need more from them still," said Fandi, 52.
"For instance, Shahfiq had his best 45 minutes in a while but fizzled out in the second half and we need him to last longer than that."
While the duo orchestrated fluent attacks that created a total of 15 chances, their failure to add to the tally made for a nervy last 14 minutes after Rezal had halved the deficit.
The night was also soured by a knee injury sustained by Safuwan Baharudin.
Said Fandi: "He's suspended for the next game but we're hoping he recovers in time for the Sarawak game after that in three weeks."
The LionsXII travel to Kota Bahru to face Kelantan on June 10 after a two-week break in the league.
This article was first published on May 25, 2014.
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