Brutally exposed for their defensive frailties, the LionsXII received a boost yesterday when captain Isa Halim said he can return from injury a month ahead of schedule to help out the ailing Malaysian Super League (MSL) side.
Out since March after undergoing surgery to shave off a bone spur in his left heel, the 28-year-old midfield destroyer, who was originally scheduled to return to action in July, has resumed light training and is targeting the away trip to Kelantan on June 10 as his comeback.
Said Isa, who started training last week: "I've started working on my agility by running and jumping, and there's no pain in my left heel, which is good.
"It does get a bit sore after training but the doctor says it is normal as I have to rebuild the strength in that area.
"I had wanted to play a part against (Malaysian military side) ATM this Saturday but was advised against it by (team physiotherapist) Nurhafizah (Abu Sujad) as it's too soon.
"But I'm feeling good about my chances of making it to the Kelantan game."
Isa is currently in the third stage of his four-stage rehabilitation, said Nurhafizah, and the aim is for him to be back in full training in two weeks' time.
She said: "We'll be working on his on-field agility, both with and without the ball, this week before seeing the doctor next week.
"Unless the doctor raises a red flag over his condition, the Kelantan game is a realistic target that we are aiming for now."
The likely return of the combative captain, who adds an extra layer of protection for the defence, for the final five MSL games is a boost for the LionsXII, who have now lost three games in a row.
Morale is especially low as they squandered leads to lose 1-2 to Terengganu last week and 2-3 to Johor Darul Takzim on Tuesday.
"The Johor loss was a hard pill to swallow, especially since it was a home game and we were 2-0 up," said Isa, who was handed the armband this season after Shahril Ishak's move to Johor Darul Takzim II.
Isa has missed eight MSL games, of which the LionsXII have lost five and won twice.
Fandi Ahmad's men lie eighth in the 12-team league with 21 points, 13 points adrift of leaders Selangor, with the coach admitting that the title defence is all but over.
Isa lamented: "It's been hard to watch things unfold from the sidelines and I want to help drive the team forward when I return.
"I'm just afraid I will become a liability when I come back, so I have to push myself hard to make sure that doesn't happen."
This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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