Why Madhu Mohana is Singapore's Rory Delap

Despite a stuttering start to their Malaysia Cup campaign, the LionsXII are flying high and top of their group after three games. FFT's Zee Ko examines what went right for Fandi Ahmad's men against Terengganu FA on Saturday night.

The man of the moment

Safuwan Baharudin was the deciding factor for LionsXII once again as they came back from a goal down to nip the win and preserve their admirable unbeaten home record. He is starting to make a habit of scoring late winners and that can only be good news for the team.

The utility man's short stint in Australia's A-League seems to have done him wonders on many levels, with the 24-year-old able to outlast his opponents and scrap to the final minute of matches. Safuwan's marker was nowhere to be found in the 89th minute as he stole to the back post and planted a firm header past the goalkeeper and into the net.

Has the LionsXII lynchpin brought his game to another level? Guess we'll find out as the tournament goes on. If he keeps it up, it might not be long before major Asian clubs start circling.

Safuwan celebrates his equaliser with Madhu Mohana. Photo: Weixiang Lim

A tireless shift

As the saying goes, 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'. Khairul Amri's importance to the team was never more apparent than when he was suspended for the first Malaysia Cup match against Kedah.

Without their attacking spearhead, the LionsXII huffed and puffed but struggled to find ways past a resolute Kedah defence. Safuwan was isolated up front, left to challenge for high balls on his own and bereft of significant support.

Amri's return has done the Singaporean team a world of good though, with two wins out of two and four goals from Safuwan. Suddenly some fans are calling for Amri to be dropped and Safuwan to replace him up front.

While a striker is usually judged by his goals (or lack of them), Amri's contribution to the team is equally valuable. The veteran striker keeps defenders on their toes with his tireless runs, allowing teammates like Safuwan to make runs from deep.

Without Amri, the LionsXII attack flounders because the wingers hug the touchlines and Safuwan is man-marked out of the game. But with the 30-year-old restored to the line-up, the attack seems much more fluid as opposition defenders resign themselves to a hard night's work.

Amri goes up for a high ball against Terengganu. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Singapore's Rory Delap

Watch Safuwan's first goal against Terengganu again (below). Madhu Mohana has long been known as a master of the long throw and he once again showed what a devastating weapon it can be.

Even though the opposition defenders knew what was coming, they could do little to stop it. Every defender was in the Terengganu box, seven bodies to the LionsXII's three.

Having Safuwan's aerial presence helps of course, but Madhu's delivery was long, flat and unerring as he hurled it into the mass of humanity jostling in the box. What followed was almost inevitable as Safuwan rose highest to send a perfect looping header into the far top corner of the Terengganu net.

All in all, the ball took but two heartbeats to reach its intended target, which made it so hard to defend. It's a skill that former Southampton and Sunderland midfielder Rory Delap was famous for in his English Premier League days and it appears that Madhu is more than capable of emulating the master.

More of this and teams might decide to concede corner kicks instead of throw-ins!

The impact substitute

Christopher van Huizen found chances hard to come by for most of his debut Malaysia Super League season, but he seems to have come into form at just the right time to boost the LionsXII's Malaysia Cup hopes.

Speaking to FourFourTwo before the tournament started, the young winger admitted that he had struggled to establish himself initially, but was hoping to impress his coach if given a chance this month.

"I know that I’m not as big as players like Amri and Safuwan to attack as much, so what I’m been working hard all season is to be the one providing the assists to these players," he said.

And so it has proven. After notching two assists in the season-ending 3-0 win over Sime Darby, Van Huizen has carried on his hot streak with two more in three Malaysia Cup games. The latest, a peach of a cross for Safuwan to score the winner, drew praise from Fandi himself after the game.

Van Huizen has pace to burn and is not afraid to take on opposing fullbacks in a race to the by-line. While it might not always lead to chances, it stretches defences and creates openings for teammates to attack down the channels.

Add to that an ability to whip in crosses and you can understand why the last thing opposition teams want to see is a fresh Van Huizen limbering up on the sidelines and ready to come on late in games.

Whether used off the bench or from the start, the former Tampines lad could very well be the LionsXII's ace up their sleeve as they try to add to their Malaysia FA Cup trophy.

Van Huizen fires in a inch-perfect cross. Photo: Weixiang Lim