LionsXII unlock tough nuts ATM

Before the game, Fandi Ahmad said that if they got a good result against ATM last night, the LionsXII would "start flying".

And the Malaysian Super League (MSL) defending champions gave their chances of lifting off a boost after a display of attacking football and, more crucially, a show of their never-say-die attitude.

The flair and urgency were evident as Fandi's men came from behind to register a 2-1 win over their nemesis ATM before 5,500 fans in the MPS Stadium in Selayang.

It was their first victory in Selayang.

But the match started on a disastrous note for the visitors when ATM scored after just four minutes.

Centre-back Amirizwan Taj Tajuddin slipped past marker Afiq Yunos to emphatically head home playmaker Bruno Martelotto's inswinging corner.

That looked ominous, given that the Malaysian military side had dumped the LionsXII out of the Malaysia Cup in the previous two seasons - the semi-finals in 2012 and the quarter-finals last year.

And the hosts also had another surprise when Marlon James was named in the starting line-up as evidence piled up to indicate the mind games played by coach B. Sathianathan.

Earlier, the wily tactician had claimed that the Winger Christie Jayaseelan, another player on Sathianathan's "injury list", also played and nearly created a second goal in the 15th minute after a surging run down the left while a cross was sliced wide by captain Hairuddin Omar.

Against an experienced side like ATM, Malaysia Cup runners-up in 2012, the LionsXII could have wilted but they did not. Instead, they slowly flickered into life.

Centre-back Safuwan Baharudin nearly scored the goal of the season in the 34th minute when he launched the ball from his own half, only for goalkeeper Syed Adney to frantically back-pedal to tip the audacious attempt over the bar.

But there was no denying the defending champions three minutes after the break with the kind of finishing that Fandi had been crying out for.

As the ball was drilled deep into ATM territory, forward Sufian Anuar flicked it behind the backline and Khairul Amri showed muscles to hold off his marker before half-volleying into the bottom corner.

Two minutes into stoppage time, substitute midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin whipped in a cross from the left and centre-back Afiq sneaked in at the near post to touch home the winner with his left foot.

With two wins, two draws and a defeat after five games, it appears that the LionsXII's title defence is wobbling but, with his senior players leaving for greener pastures, Fandi is still rebuilding.

The 51-year-old former national captain has yet to field the same first XI in his five MSL games as he goes in search of his best blend.

In Selayang, there were positive signs in midfield as Firdaus Kasman, making his first start of the year, provided energy, bite in the tackle and crisp distribution.

Three goals in five games is a good strike-rate for Khairul who often fights a lonesome battle up front.

And, most of all, the character, guts and gumption more than made up for the lack of experience, as the LionsXII showed in last night's comeback win.

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