LionsXII crash back to earth

LionsXII crash back to earth
Centre-back Safuwan Baharudin was given a midfield role but could not do much except taking pot-shots at the Selangor goal from a distance.

Inspired one match, insipid the next. Inconsistency continued to be the only constant in the LionsXII's Malaysian Super League (MSL) season as they fell to a 0-1 loss to traditional rivals Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadium yesterday evening.

And coach Fandi Ahmad can have few complaints, after midfielder Stilianos Pantelidis' first-half header brought his side crashing back down to earth, following their 4-1 demolition of leaders Pahang in their last league outing at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday.

"We were below par, the players made a lot of basic mistakes. It was very frustrating," he said after the match.

"We cannot depend on Izwan (Mahbud), Safuwan (Baharudin) and (Khairul) Amri all the time. The rest need to step up."

Playing in front of a 24,000-strong crowd, there was precious little to suggest that the Singapore outfit were ever going to trouble the hosts' backline.

Certainly not the decision to deploy centre-back Safuwan in midfield, only for his contribution to be limited to a couple of pot-shots from distance.

Not even Sufian Anuar - rewarded for his hat-trick against Pahang with his first start in over two months - could make much impact in the lone striker's role.

His fruitless, 66-minute outing summed up Fandi's struggle to find a consistent scorer this term, as his side's defence of their MSL crown continues to falter.

One can only imagine what the former national captain would give, to be able to call on a striker like Selangor's Paulo Rangel, the league's top scorer.

Fandi will no doubt have instructed his backline to keep a close watch on the hitman, who went into the match with 10 goals netted.

But they were powerless to stop him from turning provider in the 24th minute as the hosts' foreign contingent combined for the opener.

Made in Indonesia by winger Andik Vermansyah's corner and headed on by Brazilian Rangel, the chance was ultimately converted by the Melbourne-born Pantelidis.

The 30-year-old Pantelidis continued to torment the LionsXII's backline at set-pieces with his 1.85m frame, with his header in the closing stages forcing Izwan into a smart save.

In fact, it was the hosts who continued to look more threatening, with Rangel twice finding himself in space, only for Izwan to deny him on the first occasion and to fire over on the second.

At the end of an evening when they could have leapfrogged Selangor with a win, Fandi's side find themselves lying sixth in the 12-team standings, seven points adrift of leaders Pahang.

They now go into a three-week break, with third-placed Johor Darul Takzim - featuring former LionsXII key midfielder Hariss Harun - set to visit the Jalan Besar Stadium on May 10.

This article was published on April 20 in The Straits Times.

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