As the LionsXII struggled out of the gates in their 1-1 Malaysia Cup home draw with Kedah last week, one of their key players could only watch forlornly on the sidelines.
Striker Khairul Amri was serving a one-match suspension after exceeding the yellow-card limit in the Malaysian Super League (MSL), and was frustrated that he could not put in his usual all-out effort to get a win for the LionsXII.
"It's disappointing to sit out and to watch the team struggle playing at home, where we should be earning full points," he said yesterday.
The 30-year-old will be back in the LionsXII's line-up when they face Johor Darul Takzim II (JDT II) in their second Group A match tonight in Pasir Gudang.
After netting nine goals in the MSL and Malaysia FA Cup, Amri's scoring nous and willingness to run at the defence will be key for the LionsXII as they seek to advance to the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals.
Said coach Fandi Ahmad: "He is dangerous and explosive up front. He can make good link-ups to the midfield and he will cause problems in the opponents' defence."
While the team will be counting on Amri to deliver the goals, Fandi has urged the entire squad to step up their game tonight.
"Their mental attitude must change and they must be stronger. They must want to go out and win.
"They have been through ups and downs before and they know how to play at the highest level.
"Everybody in the team must work. In the last match, some players didn't perform to their highest level so we suffered," he said.
JDT II finished fifth in the second-tier Malaysia Premier League but boast two familiar faces in their ranks - Singapore's 124-cap national captain Shahril Ishak, as well as defender Baihakki Khaizan.
Both of them are former LionsXII players and starred in the squad who won the MSL in 2013.
Amri, who is expected to battle with Baihakki, said: "There are no secrets - we know each other's game and weaknesses.
"We will have to raise our game and play at a faster pace."
Fandi added: "We have to work extra hard and keep our play compact. In our transitions from attack to defence and the other way around, we must stay focused and keep it together.
"If we don't, Shahril will score."
JDT II sprang a surprise when they held Terengganu - considered to be Group A's strongest team - to a 0-0 draw in their opening match.
And while the LionsXII had beaten them 4-0 on aggregate in the Malaysia FA Cup quarter-finals in April, Amri insists that victory tonight is not a given.
"There's something about the Malaysia Cup that brings out the best in the Malaysian teams.
"They tackle harder and play faster," he said.
Fandi's side are also eager to improve their dismal away record this season, with just one win from 11 matches this MSL term.
He said: "They cannot just think that it's good enough to be in the starting XI but they must go there with the winning attitude."
Amri added: "We cannot afford to drop any more points."
This article was first published on September 19, 2015.
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