LionsXII 1-0 Johor Darul Ta’zim II: Hosts survive late onslaught

A Shahdan Sulaiman goal and a couple of late saves from Izwan Mahbud helped the LionsXII edge Johor Darul Ta’zim II 1-0 in their Malaysia Cup Group A clash at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night. 

Midfielder Shahdan broke the deadlock five minutes into the second half, while goalkeeper Izwan showed excellent reflexes to preserve all three points for the LionsXII.

In the absence of the injured Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi was handed the opportunity to start up front for the LionsXII with Safuwan Baharudin in support.

It could have been the perfect start for the 23-year-old on seven minutes when Izwan’s opportunistic long kick evaded both JDT II’s centre backs Nicolas Delmonte and Baihakki Khaizan, but his attempted lob landed on the wrong side of the right-hand post.

Meanwhile JDT II looked dangerous on the counter and could have opened the scoring in the 21st minute when Akmal Ishak capitalised on Madhu Mohana’s slip-up, but the midfielder somehow slammed wide of goal with just Izwan to beat.

There were further chances towards the end of the half for the hosts as Faris Ramli constantly got into the attacking third, but he was twice denied by JDT II goalkeeper K Sasikumar.

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad knew he had to do something to change matters at half time and opted to push Shahdan into the No.10 role with Safuwan shifted back to pair up with Izzdin Shafiq in the middle of the park.

That tactical switch worked wonders as the home side broke the deadlock five minutes after the restart.

Left back Shakir Hamzah went on the overlap and whipped a teasing ball into the box and Shahdan drove it into the bottom corner of the net to send the majority of the 5,486-strong crowd wild.

The 27-year-old was soon hauled off for the fresher legs of Firdaus Kasman while Christopher van Huizen came on for Hafiz Sujad, as the LionsXII continue to push forward and carve out opportunities at will.

Another excellent Shakir cross picked out Van Huizen in the box, but the 22-year-old was unable to keep his volley on target.

Firdaus then lashed over after Sasikumar had flapped at Sahil’s corner, before Sahil cleared the bar with a header from Zulfahmi’s free kick.

Sahil’s frustrating night continued as he failed to convert in a one-on-one opportunity with the JDT II custodian in the 89th minute after being picked out by an inch-perfect Van Huizen cross.

Those misses could have come back to haunt Fandi’s side as the visitors threw the proverbial kitchen sink at them late on.

Fortunately they could count on the immaculate Izwan to hold the fort, first blocking Shahril Ishak’s low drive with his legs before denying substitute Irfan Fazail from point-blank range.

Those stops proved to be crucial as the LionsXII ran out 1-0 winners on the night to put one foot into the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals.

The victory meant the LionsXII go top of Group A with ten points from five games, three clear of second-placed Kedah FA who lost to Terengganu FA 3-1 on the same night.

Their final game of the group stages will see them taking on Terengganu at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium on November 7.