Title chasers but for lousy away form

PHOTO: The Straits Times

With six matches to go in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), the LionsXII sit fourth in the 12-team table, a point adrift of third-placed Perak.

While they can boast an unbeaten home record of six wins and two draws, it is their poor away form that has stopped them from being league title challengers with leaders Pahang (10 points ahead of the LionsXII) and Johor Darul Takzim (eight).

With only one win - against bottom club Sime Darby - in eight matches on the road, it is a sequence which both the players and coach Fandi Ahmad are eager to improve on, starting with tonight's match against Terengganu at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium.

Defender Zulfahmi Arifin believes that, earlier in the season, his team-mates and him stuttered in front of rabid Malaysian fans eager to spur their teams to victory over the MSL's only foreign team.

"It has been hard to play away in this league, with the way the opposition fans really get behind their sides," said Zulfahmi, 23.

His defensive partner Madhu Mohana agreed, adding that their opponents on the pitch were also pumped up to ensure the LionsXII did not return to Singapore with a win.

"Every away game has really been tough," said the 24-year-old.

"They always come at us at 200 per cent in front of their fans and at times, getting a point has been good enough for us."

Such mental and physical intimidation from the host sides have caused the LionsXII to start off poorly in their away games. Of the 15 away goals they have conceded, eight have come in the opening 30 minutes.

However, Zulfahmi believes that the LionsXII players are handling the situation better now than at the start of the season - and that could be down to the two World Cup qualifiers in June.

Nine LionsXII players featured for the Singapore senior side in a heroic 0-0 away draw against mighty Japan in front of a crowd of 57,533 at Saitama Stadium on June 16, days after a 4-0 away victory against Cambodia in front of more than 40,000 fans.

Said Zulfahmi: "In recent months, we have matured. Against Japan and Cambodia, we stepped up and showed we are capable of playing in front of large crowds.

"We are improving and I hope in the coming away games we will do better and try to finish as high as possible in the league."

As the LionsXII target a top-four finish to what has been a roller- coaster of a season, Fandi is hoping for a little luck to smile on them in the remaining away games.

"We do play differently away than at home. We have to set up in a different way to ensure we don't come back with zero points," he said.

"Some games we are just unlucky. The opposition goalkeepers seem to be in inspired form when they face us.

"We need to improve our away record, and hopefully we will see that in the remaining matches."

However, luck seems be deserting the LionsXII for tonight's tricky tie at Kuala Teregganu, as they will likely be without stalwarts Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli, both of them picking up knocks on Saturday's 2-1 home win over Felda United.

Said Fandi: "Faris and Amri are big misses for us, so our best hope is to stay tight and hit the opponents on the counter.

"A point would be a boost for us, but of course we aim for a victory first."


This article was first published on August 5, 2015.
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