LionsXII best on the road

LionsXII best on the road
LionsXII striker Khairul Amri celebrating his goal against Sime Darby - it was his first goal in five matches.

One clean sheet, two goals and three away points.

It wasn't exactly easy as one-two-three, but the LionsXII fully deserved the 2-0 win over Sime Darby FC at the Selayang Stadium last night in front of 750 fans.

The defending Malaysian Super League champions are now fourth with 18 points, four behind leaders Pahang, while Sime Darby remain in ninth.

At the halfway mark of this campaign, Fandi Ahmad's team are the best performers on the road, having already collected three wins and a draw from six away games, one more victory and just two points fewer than the whole of last season.

In comparison, with two wins and two draws from five games, their home record ranks just ninth out of 12 teams.

They have already lost to Pahang (FA Cup) and Kelantan and drew with Terengganu, but it was last week's 1-1 draw against T-Team that made Fandi's blood boil.

Pressure to protect record

But the LionsXII coach insists that even as his team's home form will improve, it will be the away form that will be crucial in deciding this season's title.

"Maybe there was too much pressure on the boys to protect the unbeaten home record that went past 20 games," said the 51-year-old, whose team were cheered on by about 50 die-hard LionsXII fans.

"But I'm happy with the response of the boys tonight. We should have scored more, but it was still a good performance and momentum to carry into the second half of the season.

"It will not be easy against Sime Darby at home next week, but we need to start becoming more consistent and get a good string of results both home and away.

"But I think it's our away form that will keep us among the contenders."

It was a match full of end-to-end action, but the LionsXII looked like they were lacking the cutting edge once again.

However, Sime Darby found Izwan Mahbud in irresistible form. The LionsXII goalkeeper made some stunning saves, including one in the 13th minute when he tipped a Fadzli Saari header that came off Safuwan Baharudin.

He then flew off his line to block from Mahmoud Amnah in the 42nd minute, before Madhu Mohana cleared off the line as Azmirul Azmi tried to thump in the rebound.

And then, it was all LionsXII in the second half as Safuwan glanced in Shahfiq Ghani's free-kick in the 52nd minute, before Khairul Amri shrugged William Mensah off the ball 10 minutes later to slot in his first goal in five games.

Injury Crisis

Though he felt his side should have won by a bigger margin, Fandi hailed them for coming up with a perfect response even though they were struggling with injuries.

The LionsXII's first-choice central midfield pairing of Zulfahmi Arifin and Isa Halim were ruled out by suspension and a heel injury respectively, while Hafiz Abu Sujad (hamstring) and Sufian Anuar (groin) failed to pass a late fitness test and remained in Singapore.

Of the 19 who travelled, Madhu, Gabriel Quak (both knee), Faris Ramli (calf) and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari (hamstring) carried injuries, while Afiq Yunos (toe) was an unused substitute.

So even though the scorers were the usual suspects, Fandi said: "It doesn't matter who scored tonight because we really needed the three points.

"I was telling the boys at half-time, we cannot be going back with just one point.

"The way we played, anyone could have scored, and I'm hoping the other players will also chip in.

"We showed great spirit tonight and I'm hoping they will keep this up for the rest of the season."

This article was published on April 6 in The New Paper.

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