LionsXII seek home comforts

THE LionsXII will be looking to home for their first points of the season after opening their Malaysian Super League (MSL) title defence with a defeat at Pahang.

They host arch-rivals Selangor on Saturday at fortress Jalan Besar where they held an unbeaten record last year, thanks to their passionate supporters and a slick artificial pitch.

Naturally, they are hoping for the same backing and result.

Leading the war cry is new LionsXII captain Isa Halim.

"The fans are our 12th man. They were amazing last year," he said. "In our team talks, we keep telling each other that we don't want to disappoint them.

"Jalan Besar is a very compact ground, the supporters are close to the pitch. You can literally hear what the fans say.

"And, when they roar, you can feel their fire and that gives the players a tremendous lift."

Striker Sufian Anuar, who played for S-League club Warriors FC last year, said: "We must recreate the feeling that Jalan Besar is a fortress. I wasn't part of that team but it must have been the best feeling ever to know that you're unbeatable at home.

"We must retain that status and make teams fear about coming to play us here."

Last season, coach V. Sundramoorthy's LionsXII were unbeaten in all 11 MSL home fixtures and four Malaysia Cup matches.

The team's last home defeat came in July 2012 when they lost 0-1 in their last home match of the season to Johor FC, now known as Johor Darul Takzim I.

Against Selangor, new coach Fandi Ahmad will be boosted by the likely return of centre-back Safuwan Baharudin, who bruised his right knee during Tuesday's 3-0 Malaysia FA Cup win over DRB Hicom.

The 22-year-old also paid tribute to the fans, who regularly fill the 7,500-seater stadium, saying: "The fans deserve all the credit. We are unbeaten at home because of them. They intimidate the opponents. It can be frustrating for away teams when the home crowd is against you."

LionsXII will also be helped by Jalan Besar's synthetic surface as visiting teams are not used to the speed and bounce of the ball.

The field has also just been upgraded with thicker artificial grass that makes the pitch softer.

"The new pitch is much softer and feels more natural," Isa noted.

"The ball travels faster but we are used to it as we have always played on artificial surface. This is our advantage. Last season, almost every Malaysian team complained about our pitch."

Safuwan added: "This is our home game so we are playing in a familiar environment. Likewise, when we are away, we have to get used to conditions alien to us.

"We got most of our league points from Jalan Besar. And we are counting on another strong run this year."

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