Johor Darul Ta'zim 1 LionsXII 2: Safuwan leaves it late for visitors

The LionsXII earned their first Malaysia Cup win this season against Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) II on Saturday evening with a late 2-1 victory to erase the horror showing in last week’s insipid draw against Kedah FA.

Safuwan Baharudin was the star of the night, scoring two headers for the LionsXII, with the vital one coming in stoppage time just as the match was heading for a stalemate.

Fandi Ahmad restored Khairul Amri to the starting line up after his one match suspension, with the striker tasked with finding a way past national teammate Baihakki Khaizan.

The LionsXII led deservedly in the first half thanks to Safuwan’s header, with the ex-Melbourne City player looking in dominant form for the visitors.

Safuwan, deployed in an unfamiliar role as a lone striker in the last game, shifted back to midfield alongside Izzdin Shafiq for this match.

It took only two minutes for him to get his first chance, with his long range shot proving too ambitious to cause any problems for opposing goalkeeper Zulfadhli Mohamed.

But in the 22nd minute, there was no denying the midfielder from scoring his first goal in the Malaysia Cup.

The LionsXII won a free kick on the left side and Faritz Hameed swung a delightful ball to the unmarked Safuwan who headed easily past Zulfadhli.

From the restart, Safuwan was once again in the thick of the action after hacking down Shafiq Shaharudin on the left flank and receiving the first caution of the night.

Izwan Mahbud palmed away the resulting free kick to safety.

Despite going behind, the home team were content with sitting back and soaking up attacks.

Still, Nenad Bacina’s army of red had a couple of chances to take the lead before the break, albeit both coming from opposition mistakes.

Baihakki threaded a long ball straight into the path of Shafiq for a one-on-one with Izwan Mahbud but the goalkeeper made a fantastic point blank save, only for the linesman to show a belated offside flag.

Shortly before the half ended, Safuwan almost turned from hero to villain by heading a poor back pass to his goalkeeper, with the ball dropping kindly for Shahril Ishak to shoot straight at an advancing Izwan.

Sahil Suhami, so used to coming off the bench as an impact player, ended the half with a series of chances and came agonizingly close to extending his team’s lead.

Full-back Faritz Hameed had time to gallop forward and sent a curling cross to Sahil who headed past the goalkeeper but saw his effort bounce off the crossbar.

Minutes later, it was Sahil again who cut into the penalty box from the left and after beating three defenders, saw his shot flash wide off the post to end the half.

Sahil started the second half brightly and could have doubled his team’s lead.

Kamarul Afiq earned a yellow card after a tackle on the diminutive midfielder, but the woodwork denied the Singaporean striker once again as his resulting free kick crashed against the bar.

JDT II finally upped their gear in search of an equaliser and they duly found one after some canny Bacina substitutions.

Akmal Ishak and Ramzi Haziq were brought on to replace Shafiq and Irfan Fazail, and it was Akmal who made an instant impact.

Dribbling straight into the LionsXII box from the left, Akmal was tackled by Faritz Hameed and the referee made his easiest decision of the night by pointing to the spot and booking Faritz for the foul.

Nicolas Delmonte made no mistake from 12 yards to give the home side a well-earned equaliser and leave Fandi’s men frustrated after dominating for long spells.

Shortly after, Christopher van Huizen replaced Nazrul Nazari for the LionsXII while Khairul Amri had a goal flagged offside, much to the disapproval of the away team.

The LionsXII earned a free kick in a dangerous position at the edge of the box and Khairul made no mistake, whipping a low shot past Zulfadhli and wheeling away in celebration, only for the linesman to deem Safuwan interfering with play by blocking the goalkeeper’s view.

But the LionsXII continued to push on and grabbed all three points in stoppage time.

Van Huizen sent a powerful cross into the box from the right that goalkeeper Zulfadhli could only parry away, and the ball fell kindly to Safuwan who headed the winner into the empty net.

Photo: Football Association of Singapore