The LionsXII made a winning return last night after a 3-1 victory over military side ATM in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).
While the triumph at the Jalan Besar Stadium gave them their third straight victory in the league, coach Fandi Ahmad's charges were far from their best.
Abject and weary in the first half, the home team took some time to get going last night. Prior to the match, Fandi had warned that his side would need to get used to the later kick-off.
The LionsXII, who usually start their matches at 7.30pm, had to adjust to a revised timing of 9pm due to the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
It perhaps did not help either that nine of the starting 11 in last night's win had been involved in the senior national team's exertions in a 4-0 win over Cambodia in a 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier on June 11 and a valiant 0-0 draw against Japan on Tuesday.
The other two, Faris Ramli and Shakir Hamzah, played pivotal roles in a failed SEA Games campaign with the Singapore Under-23s, when the team crashed out in the group stage after two wins and two defeats.
The Young Lions had also been involved in an intensive training camp in Japan prior to the tournament.
Last night, the spectators had only one major incident to shout about in the first half after a goal in the 40th minute. Faris Ramli's free kick was inadvertently turned into his own net by ATM's Fazly Alias.
A rejuvenated LionsXII came out in the second half and hunted for victory after a tactical change by Fandi.
Safuwan Baharudin was moved to midfield while Zulfahmi Arifin became a centre-back.
The move paid dividends almost immediately as Safuwan netted in the 51st minute, drilling a shot into the bottom left corner from just outside the box after receiving a pass from Faris.
ATM, who are second from bottom in the 12-team MSL table, pulled one back in the 60th minute. Fazly made amends for his earlier error by thumping his header past the in-form Izwan Mahbud in goal from a corner.
But the LionsXII made sure of victory late on when Safuwan, who was by now playing up front as the main striker, after Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam had been taken off, headed a ball into Shahdan Sulaiman's path.
Shahdan ran onto the ball and finished past the goalkeeper to make it 3-1 in the 84th minute.
This was the LionsXII's first outing since becoming the first foreign team to lift the Malaysia FA Cup, after they beat Kelantan 3-1 in the final last month.
But judging from last night's performance, the LionsXII must improve if they are to add any silverware to their cabinet for the season.
This article was first published on June 21, 2015.
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