The LionsXII put in a strong defensive display against current Malaysian Super League leaders Felda United to earn a creditable away point on Saturday night.
In a physically sapping 90 minutes at the Stadium Majlis Perbandaran Selayang, the Singaporean side did well to hold their own and could have stolen all three points if Khairul Amri’s 63rd minute freekick had not come off the bar.
The result meant the LionsXII dropped a place to ninth spot, with five points collected from four games thus far.
Coming off the back of a 4-0 win against PB Melayu Kedah in the Malaysia FA Cup, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad made a couple of notable changes in defence – bringing back Hafiz Sujad at the expense of Wahyudi Wahid at left back, while Zulfahmi Arifin stepped in for Afiq Yunos who was down with gout.
The latter was involved as early as the sixth minute when he played in a good freekick for Khairul Amri, whose header lacked the power to trouble Felda goalkeeper Farizal Harun.
Felda slowly settled in and created a couple of opportunities, with Malaysian international Indra Putra Mahayuddin forcing Izwan Mahbud into action while left-back Aizulridzwan Razali’s effort flashed across the face of goal.
The Turtles mainly tried to get the ball to their all-African strikeforce of Edward Junior Wilson and Ndumba Makeche, but their deliveries were constantly foiled by LionsXII centre back Madhu Mohana.
At the other end, Faris Ramli then lashed over a speculative effort while Amri failed to turn home Zulfahmi’s freekick once again.
Winger Gabriel Quak was the heart of two excellent openings in the closing stages of the half, but spurned both – losing his footing after getting past Farizal in the first instance, before somehow scooping wide from three yards out after being set up by an excellent pass by Amri.
The LionsXII could have ended the half a goal ahead when Madhu nodded home Faris’ freekick but the goal was adjudged to be offside.
After the half-time break, they carried on where they left off with Quak seeing his shot blocked by Aizulridzwan while Amri flicked a header wide via Faris’ corner.
Felda coach Irfan Bakti reacted by taking off the ineffectual Wilson for Ferris Danial on the hour mark and it nearly proved to be a masterstroke as Nazrul Nazari’s slip led to the latter finding space to shoot just over.
The deadlock could have been broken by the LionsXII instead but Amri’s freekick minutes later came back off the crossbar.
The end-to-end action continued as Makeche skipped past the Zulfahmi's challenge to go one-on-one with Izwan before the latter came up trumps with a point-blank save with his legs.
LionsXII captain Isa Halim then lashed wide from 20 yards out before Makeche’s tight-angled effort forced another save from Izwan.
Fandi then brought on Sahil Suhaimi for Faris in the last 15 minutes but the former Courts Young Lions attacker found little joy in the attacking third as Felda upped the ante in search of a possible late winner.
However, despite a flurry of corners, the home side was unable to breach a resolute LionsXII defence and eventually had to settle for the point.
It was a first league clean sheet of the season for the visitors, and should prove a good morale-booster ahead of next Saturday’s home encounter against a resurgent Terangganu FA outfit.
Photo: Football Association of Singaporecomments