Football: Home and runaway

Football: Home and runaway
JOY: LionsXII goalscorer Hafiz Abu Sujad hugging goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, an unused sub last night, as head coach Fandi Ahmad and assistant coach Nazri Nasir join in the celebrations.
PHOTO: The New Paper

The LionsXII finished with a flourish as they thumped a hapless Sime Darby 3-0 in their last Malaysian Super League match of the season yeserday.

Safuwan Baharudin's thumping header, Khairul Amri's cool penalty and Hafiz Abu Sujad's sweet curler in front of a 5,918-strong crowd raised hopes that they could carry the momentum over to the Malaysia Cup, scheduled to kick off on Sept 11.

While LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad was disappointed with the eventual seventh-placed finish, just one better than last season, the 53-year-old saw plenty of positives and noted some areas where his team could improve.

HOME IMPROVEMENT

Last season, the LionsXII's form at home alone - four wins, three draws and four losses - would have seen them relegated.

But this year, they have improved vastly and have not lost at Jalan Besar, forging a 15-match unbeaten home streak.

"Despite our slow start, without injured key players like Shahdan (Sulaiman), Afiq (Yunos) and Raihan (Rahman), and Safuwan (Baharudin, who played in the A-League), it was a fantastic effort to string a good home run," said Fandi.

"We held league champions Johor Darul Ta'zim to a goalless draw, beat runners-up Pahang 4-2, and drew third-placed Selangor 1-1, with local players against some top imports, so I think we did well."

SILVERWARE

Against all odds, the all-Singaporean LionsXII side went head-to-head with top Malaysian sides like Terengganu and Kelantan in the latter stages of the Malaysian FA Cup and emerged victorious.

Fandi said: "One of our targets was a good cup run and I'm glad we went all the way, playing some beautiful football, scoring 19 goals and conceding just five in seven games along the way."

PLAYER PROGRESS

While winger Faris Ramli has carried on from where he left off last season, plundering 10 goals, other players also stepped up.

"Izzdin (Shafiq) did great in midfield, Hafiz (Abu Sujad) improved as an overlapping left back, and Madhu (Mohana) was huge for us in defence," said Fandi.

"There were also players deployed out of position like Zulfahmi (Arifin) in defence and Nazrul (Ahmad Nazari) at right back, but they did so well for us for most of the season.

"Many players have scored this season, for example Faris has 10, Amri has eight, even Hafiz got five and Madhu grabbed three, so it is good that everyone is contributing."

LEAKY DEFENCE

Their clean sheet last night was only their first in eight league games, and fifth of their league season, equalling last season's tally.

But the tally of 32 goals they conceded is five worse than last year's MSL campaign.

Fandi said: "The other teams have four quality imports who are bigger and more powerful.

"We had to cope without Afiq and Safuwan and often played with a makeshift defence.

"I'm happy with my players' effort but, of course, we will continue to work towards keeping the goals conceded to a minimum."

POOR AWAY FORM

The statistics of just one win and three draws on the road is just not good enough for a team challenging for a top-three finish.

The LionsXII finished 13 points behind MSL winners Johor Darul Ta'zim, with their Singaporean midfielder Hariss Harun picking up his third straight league title.

Fandi said: "It is a matter of confidence. Maybe we have to try playing in a different way.

"Once we start winning, hopefully as soon as possible, we will believe more in ourselves and go far in the Malaysia Cup."

 


This article was first published on August 23, 2015.
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