By Amir Yusof/Red Sports

lionsxii vs KL

Shahdan Sulaiman (#8) scored the go-ahead goal for the LionsXII to ensure the 2-1 victory. (Photo 1 © Les Tan/Red Sports)

Jalan Besar Stadium, Tuesday, January 17, 2012 — The Singapore LionsXII achieved their first Malaysian Super League win in three games after beating Kuala Lumpur (KL) 2-1 in a feisty encounter in front of 7,168 fans.

The Lions took the lead through an own goal by KL defender Alman Syazwan before half time before Shahdan Sulaiman doubled their lead in the second period. KL then pulled a goal back through a penalty by Fazuan Abdullah after Safuwan Baharudin hauled him down. To make things worse, Safuwan was sent off for a second bookable offense.

Luckily, the Lions managed to hang unto their slender lead till the final whistle to record their maiden victory of the season.

The opening half saw the Lions dominating possession and enjoying a large number of golden opportunities. Hence, it was quite surprising that they only led by the one goal going into the break.

Just seven minutes in, a corner won by winger Irwan Shah was curled in by Shahdan Sulaiman and Bhaihakki Khaizan rose highest at the near post to flick the ball across the face of goal. Yet, there was no one at the far post to produce the touch needed to give the Lions an early lead.

A minute later, a brilliantly weighted through ball by Isa Halim was collected by the impressive Shahril Ishak. However, the stand in front man could only shoot into the side netting as the crowd applauded a rare show of intricate football.

Indeed, the Lions struggled to outplay their opponents through their passing and movement and had to rely on set pieces. The first came in the 17th minute from a free kick on the right touchline. It was from a similar position from which Baihakki Khaizan headed in the opener against Kelantan a week ago. Bhaihakki again got his head first to the ball from Shahdan’s out-swinger but the ball sailed over the crossbar to the disappointment of the home fans.

10 minutes later, a free kick from an almost similar position by Shahdan Sulaiman was met again by Baihakki. Once more, the towering centre back failed to hit the target. From the resulting corner, Irwan Shah’s effort at the far post slashed into the side netting.

The Lions threat from set-pieces continued when Safuwan Baharudin’s header sailed just past the post from Shahdan’s brilliantly weighted free kick on the left touchline.

Four minutes before half-time, the Lions finally drew first blood. Shahril beat the offside trap and was running free down the left wing. The skipper then threaded a ball through to the unmarked Irwan Shah who was in acres of space in the box. However, the young winger failed to make contact with the ball and KL defender Alman Syazwan clumsily bundled the ball into the net to the delight of the home supporters.

As the LionsXII players rushed to congratulate Irwan, the youngster was grinning sheepishly, probably in the knowledge that he didn’t know much about the goal.

“It could either have been an own goal or it was mine. I touched the ball on its way in but the last touch did come off the defender but the important thing is that we scored and ultimately it helped us to victory,” said Irwan after the game.

The lead was fully deserved as the Lions went into the break to massive applause. An air of positivity was certainly felt in the air as the fans could finally envision victory after three games.

Fortunately, the Lions started the second the way the ended the first: on the offensive.

Just 10 minutes in, Shahril was again involved, threading a defence-splitting pass into Irwan’s path down the left wing. The winger then showed his marker a clean set of heels before drilling a cross into the 6-yard box. Although Kuala Lumpur goalkeeper Rozaimie Rohim appeared to have caught the ball comfortably, the veteran spilled and fumbled the powerful cross to the delight of Shahdan Sulaiman standing alongside him. The LionsXII playmaker simply could not miss and smashed the ball into the net as the ground erupted once more.

The euphoric celebrations triggered a series of ‘Kallang waves’ as the supporters roared with approval. The Lions were finally on their way to their first win of the season.

However, the optimism and belief was diminished half way into the second half. Safuwan Baharudin, who was already on a yellow card, was beaten to the ball and pulled down Fazuan Abdullah (KL #20). Referee Azman Ismail had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and showed Safuwan his second yellow before pulling out the red to send the central defender for an early bath.

Fazuan Abdullah then struck the penalty superbly into the top right hand corner to send the City Boys within a goal of claiming a draw at Jalan Besar.

Buoyed by their penalty goal, KL went in search of the equalizer. Skipper Mohamed Aslam shot just over as the Lions regrouped and reorganized.

Recognising the danger of merely sitting back and inviting their opponents to attack, Lions coach V.Sundramoorthy made an offensive substitution by replacing left back Shakir Hamzah with forward Khairul Nizam.

The change paid dividends almost immediately as the Lions were able to get a grip of possession with Nizam displaying fine hold up play and a hunger to impress. Along with fellow substitute Fazli Ayob, Nizam was a constant threat to the City Boys’ defence and this certainly lifted the pressure on the Lions back four.

Just as fans started to imagine the impact Nizam could have had if he had started, the forward was writhing in pain after coming off badly in a challenge. Despite just coming on, Nizam had to be substituted by Raihan Rahman.

With KL struggling to get the ball, they were never going to score. Hence, it was no surprise when the final whistle consigned the City Boys to their third consecutive defeat. Although they were mostly outplayed, KL coach Razip Ismail was unimpressed with the Lions offensive display.

“They were predictable. They mainly threatened through set pieces and long balls into the box. There’s nothing to suggest they can play good football. Combine the difficulty of playing on artificial surface and our defensive mistakes, we deserved to lose today. However, we lost mainly due to our own errors,” said Razip.

Sundram didn’t quite agree with his counterpart’s negative sentiments of the Lions.

“We created so many chances it was unbelievable. Especially in the first half, we were in complete control and should have been two or three goals to the good. Sometimes, these players don’t realize the amount of time and space they have in the box,” said Sundram.

When asked about a solution for his problem of injured strikers, Sundram joked that other than natural midfielder Shahril and the injured Nizam, the only other striking option for the away match to Sabah on Saturday was himself.

Despite that moment of levity, Sundram will now have some serious work on his hands to find the right offensive combination for his next game.

Final Score
LionsXII 2 Kuala Lumpur 1

LionsXII — Shahdan Sulaiman (57′)
Kuala Lumpur — Alman Syazwan (OG, 41′), Fazuan Abdullah (pen, 68′)

LionsXII Starting Line Up
Izwan Mahmud, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Irwan Shah, Juma’at Jantan, Isa Halim, Hariss Harun, Yasir Hanapi (Fazli Ayob, 55′), Shahdan Sulaiman, Shahril Ishak, Shakir Hamzah (Khairul Nizam, 76′; Raihan Rahman, 88′)

Kuala Lumpur Starting Line Up
Hishamuddin Othman, Ahmad Jihad, Syafiq Johari, Rozaimie Rohim, Mohamed Aslam, Azrul Azmi (Afiq Azmi, 83′), Fauzan Abdullah, Nur Hakim, Ahmad Dashlia, Syafwan Syahlan, Alman Syazman

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Looking for the LionsXII’s fixtures? All here: Singapore LionsXII fixtures