Despite leading 1-0 at half-time against PB Melayu Kedah in the Malaysia FA Cup Round-of-32 clash in Kedah last night, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad was an unhappy man in the dressing room.
The home side, who play in the third-tier FAM League, were more dominant in possession, and had two great opportunities - one of which hit the crossbar - before Afiq Yunos put the LionsXII ahead in the 36th minute, glancing home from Faris Ramli's inswinging corner.
After the match, Fandi said: "I told them at half-time that they'd better start closing down the other team.
"We were giving them too much space and letting them dominate us.
"Our opponents were all fighters and had a few opportunities to score."
His words, along with a tactical switch at the start of the second half, did wonders for the Malaysian Super League side.
The 52-year-old coach replaced Izzdin Shafiq with Sahil Suhaimi for a two-striker formation alongside Khairul Amri, and the move paid off almost instantaneously. Kedah centre back Nizam Mansor completely missed a long punt from the LionsXII's half in the 48th minute, allowing the diminutive substitute forward to dink the ball home, with goalkeeper Sheril Anuar left in no man's land.
With a two-goal cushion and Madhu Mohana and Afiq gaining confidence at the back, Fandi's men poured forward in search for more goals, and were rewarded just past the hour mark.
In one of his most impressive performances in a LionsXII shirt, Gabriel Quak latched on perfectly to a defence-splitting lob from Firdaus Kasman at the edge of the box.
Instinctively, the 24-year-old dodged the onrushing Sheril and slotted the ball home from a tight angle.
Sahil, who could have ended the match with four goals, scored his second in 85th minute with a firm header after fellow substitute Syafiq Zainal found him unmarked in the box.
Kedah coach Abdullah Hassan said: "The LionsXII deserved to win tonight, they were clearly the better side and we learnt something in this match.
"They were clearly better than us in all aspects of the game, including fitness."
The LionsXII will next face Putrajaya Spa, who are currently bottom of the second-tier Malaysian Premier League, in the Round of 16.
The emphatic scoreline apart, Fandi was pleased with the LionsXII getting their first away win and keeping their first clean sheet of the season.
He was also cheered by the performances of fringe players such as goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid, Syafiq and Samuel Benjamin.
Fandi said: "Tonight's game definitely will give us a boost in confidence. Our defence has been leaky and to get a clean sheet tonight is good.
"The entire team did well in the second half, created a lot of chances, and I know I can bank on the likes of Khai and Syafiq as options in the upcoming games."
ROUND OF 32
PB MELAYU KEDAH 0
(Afiq Yunos 36, Sahil Suhaimi 48, 85, Gabriel Quak 63)
Putrajaya Spa 3 Kuantan 0
Felda 2 Selangor 2 (Selangor win 4-2 on penalties)
JDTII 2 PKNS 1
Melaka United 1 Terengganu 3
Penang 1 Perlis 0
Shahzan Muda 1 Perak 3
T-Team 3 ATM FA 0 (after penalties)
This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015.
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