It was a disappointing Tuesday night for the LionsXII as they were held to a 1-1 draw by strugglers ATM FA at Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi.
Hafiz Sujad had given the LionsXII the breakthrough just before the half, but the Malaysia FA Cup champions were pegged back shortly after the restart through Abdulafees Abdulsalam’s penalty.
The equaliser earned the Gladiators a share of the spoils and also ended the LionsXII’s four-match winning run in all competitions.
After a jaded performance three days ago against the same opposition, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad opted to leave the likes of Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli on the bench, with Hafiz and Firdaus Kasman replacing them in the first eleven.
Reinvigorated by the returns of Obinna Nwaneri and Abdulafees, it was ATM who started the game the more dominant side.
Abdulafees headed wide on seven minutes after being found by Obinna’s flick-on from Azmeer Yusof’s freekick, before captain Hairuddin Omar’s volley was deflected wide of goal by Madhu Mohana five minutes later.
Madhu had an opportunity at the other end in the 15th minute after Gabriel Quak’s corner had bounced around the box, but his shot was deflected wide by the alert Badrul Hisham.
Abdulafees then went close again eight minutes later, as he skinned Nazrul Nazari and Madhu before seeing his close-range shot well denied by Izwan Mahbud’s legs.
The LionsXII should perhaps had a penalty on 34 minutes when ATM centre-back Fazly Alias made contact with Hafiz’s hip inside the area, but referee Ahmad Zuhadi was not interested.
Hafiz was not to be denied three minutes before the break though, as he steadied himself inside the box before firing a sizzling low effort that went through Badrul’s legs and in off the right-hand post.
Stung by the setback, ATM coach Shahrin Abdul Majid changed things up by bringing Raja Ridzuwan and Mario Karlovic on for Obinna and Affize Faisal after the break.
It was the visitors who nearly doubled their advantage four minutes in though, as Nizam robbed the ball off Raja before losing the duel with opposition keeper Syed Adney in the preceding one-on-one opportunity.
ATM duly levelled matters after 58 minutes through a contentious penalty decision as Madhu was adjudged to have fouled Jerry Palacios inside the box.
Replays had clearly shown that the contact was made outside the area, but the decision stood as Abdulafees duly sent Izwan the wrong way to restore parity.
Amri and Faris were soon summoned from the bench, but the pair found the going tough against a gritty ATM side who are battling against relegation.
The only time Adney was troubled in the final 30 minutes was to push away a Safuwan Baharudin freekick, while opposite counterpart Izwan produced a brilliant late save from Venice Elphi’s goalbound header to preserve a hard-earned point for the visitors.
The draw meant the LionsXII stay in seventh place, a point adrift of the top half, as they look forward to a tough clash against PDRM FA at Shah Alam on Friday night.
Photos: Football Association of Singaporecomments