A recurring theme for the LionsXII last season was their inability to hit the back of the net.
Coach Fandi Ahmad, a prolific striker in his playing days, was so frustrated with the low return that he even held extra finishing practice after training sessions to help the team, but to no avail.
In the end, the underwhelming strikeforce mustered a meagre 26 goals in the 22-game Malaysian Super League (MSL) last season, 13 behind champions Johor Darul Takzim, and six fewer than their haul during the 2013 title-winning campaign. They also failed to score in six matches.
But Khairul Amri, who has played for the LionsXII in two of their three seasons in the MSL, is adamant there will no repeat of their profligacy this year - starting from tomorrow's opener against newly-promoted PDRM.
The fleet-footed forward, 29, who scored a team-high seven goals last season, told The Straits Times: "In terms of quality and depth, this is probably the best strike force the LionsXII have assembled. There's more speed up front and down the flanks. I'm confident we can make our chances count this season."
Besides Amri, the team retained last season's strikers Khairul Nizam, Sufian Anuar and Syafiq Zainal - although Syafiq looks set to play on the wings.
But they added a genuine goal threat in ex-Courts Young Lions forward Sahil Suhaimi, who was the joint-top local scorer in last season's S-League with 10 goals.
There is also the improvement of winger Faris Ramli, who impressed during Singapore's ASEAN Football Federation Cup campaign in November.
Amri said: "Sahil is a quality player. It's his first season in the MSL, but give him time to settle, and for us to gel, and we can do the job. If we play a front three, Faris and Sahil can cut in, and we can play one-twos. With their speed, they can get in behind opposition defenders.
"For me, the target is the same - to stay injury-free, and score as many as I can. Even if I can't score, I'll try to assist my team-mates."
Fandi admitted he is pleased with the depth of forwards at his disposal. Besides Amri's speed and predatory instincts, the coach can now rely on Sahil's clinical finishing, Sufian's industry and tenacity, Nizam's aerial ability, and Faris' flair and trickery.
"At least we have more attacking options now, otherwise Amri has to shoulder the responsibility by himself again. Last year we only had Sufian and Amri because of injury problems to Nizam.
"We're happy to have Sahil on board and, hopefully, this time Nizam, who is a good talent, can stay fit, work extra hard in training, and give us something back."
There will be added responsibility on the front line, given the defensive crisis facing the team.
Defensive stalwart Safuwan Baharudin is on loan at Australian A-League side Melbourne City, his usual partner Afiq Yunos is out indefinitely with gout, while right-back Faritz Abdul Hameed is recovering from a knee injury.
But MSL debutant Sahil is raring to go. He said: "The understanding, teamwork, and combination play between Amri, Faris, and me is there, and now we just have to apply it on the pitch.
"I know people expect a lot from me. There's a bit of pressure, but I will do my best not to let them down."
This article was first published on February 6, 2015.
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