LionsXII fall to narrow loss in Terengganu

A contentious penalty decision proved to be the difference as the Turtles mounted a comeback to leave the reigning champions languishing in eighth spot in the table  

The LionsXII were done in by a contentious penalty decision as Terengganu FA edged them 2-1 at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium on Saturday evening.

Khairul Amri gave the visitors an early lead in the eighth minute, but the hosts rallied and equalised almost immediately thanks to Javier Estupinan’s free header from a corner.

The winning goal came in rather controversial circumstances as Estupinan, who gave the LionsXII defence a torrid 90 minutes, fell from the slightest of pushes by Izwan Mahbud. Turtles captain Zairo Anuar scored from the resulting spot kick, giving the hosts all three points.   

The LionsXII started the game in dominant fashion as they searched for their fourth away win of the season against a Terengganu side who were without a victory in five games.

Baihakki Khaizan made his debut for the LionsXII after rejoining his former club in the transfer window, allowing captain Safuwan Baharudin to start in an advanced attacking role.

Amri put a header wide within a minute of kick-off, before setting up Safuwan to blaze over shortly after.

It wasn’t too long until they broke the deadlock though as Shakir Hamzah’s cross reached Amri at the far post and he headed it downwards into the opposite corner of the net.

But their lead was short-lived as Terengganu found the equaliser just three minutes later.

Moustapha Dabo tried to lob the ball over Izwan, but the goalkeeper got a touch to divert it out for a corner. From Zairo's delivery, Estupinan escaped his marker and glanced a free header into the bottom corner to draw the sides level.

Izwan was then called into action again in the first half to save strikes from Ashaari Samsudin and Zairo's free kick, as the home side took control following their equaliser.

It was the visitors who started the second period brightly, as Zulfahmi’s free kick right on the edge of the penalty box in the 55th minute was parried away by Sharbinee Ramli.

Estupinan then went close for the Turtles a few minutes later, but his powerful free header from close range went over the bar.

Midway through the second half, Faris Ramli did well to get away from his marker on the left and released Amri, but his tame effort was comfortably saved.

That missed chance proved costly as almost immediately at the other end, Terengganu were awarded a contentious penalty. Estupinan raced on to Dabo's through ball and went down after Izwan rushed out, with any contact appearing to be minimal. Zairo then coolly sent Izwan the wrong way from the spot with the penalty.

The LionsXII tried to rally in search of an equaliser, with efforts from Gabriel Quak and substitute Firdaus Kasman missing the target. Baihakki did put the ball in the back of the net late on but Safuwan, who squared the ball to him, was adjudged to have been offside in yet another debatable decision.

That was it for the LionsXII, who missed out on a golden opportunity to jump into the top half of the table as Terengganu moved into the top three.