Kelantan 2 LionsXII 0: Set pieces prove visitors' undoing

The LionsXII were sent crashing back down to earth on Sunday evening, as Kelantan scored twice to leapfrog them to the top of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) standings.

Jonathan McKain gave the Red Warriors a dream start after only six minutes, with captain Badhri Radzi doubling their advantage just before halftime.

It was a lead that the home side never relinquished, as Fandi Ahmad's men failed to make any headway in the second half.

The LionsXII were always going to be facing a tough task against Kelantan's foreign strike pairing of Emmanuel Kenmogne and Erwin Carrillo but it was another import who broke the deadlock with six minutes on the clock.

Fitri Omar's inswinging corner kick seemed to catch the LionsXII defence unawares, as McKain lost marker Afiq Yunos and dived in at the near post to beat Izwan Mahbud all ends up with a bullet header.

It was almost 2-0 shortly after as Kenmogne beat the offside trap and cut the ball back dangerously across the face of goal.

Izwan watched on in horror as he parried the ball straight into Badri's path but managed to do enough to block the follow-up shot before diving gratefully on to the ball.

Further up the pitch, McKain was engaged in a running battle with LionsXII forward Khairul Amri, with the Kelantan defender coming up on top after a series of brusing challenges.

Kelantan midfielder Isaac Pupo was finding his range while sitting deep, daring the LionsXII midfielders to close him down.

None of them did, and the Liberian international had the visiting defenders scrambling on several occasions with chips over the defence to a lurking Kenmogne.

Fandi Ahmad's decision to start Khairul Nizam in place of the unavailable Faris Ramli backfired spectacularly, with the injury-prone forward limping off with less than 25 minutes on the clock.

While Sufian Anuar's introduction added extra steel to the LionsXII's side, it was defender Madhu Mohana who was causing trouble in the Kelantan box from a series of corners.

The Red Warriors had McKain to thank for a timely block as Madhu latched on to a mishit clearance and took a shot on goal.

Kenmogne headed the ball just wide in the 38th minute, slipping in between Madhu and Nazrul Nazari as Kelantan searched for the vital second goal.

It duly came after Sufian was penalised somewhat harshly as Faakri Saarani went down under little pressure just outside the box.

Badhri stepped up and curled a perfect free kick into the top left hand corner of the LionsXII net, leaving Izwan rooted to the spot.

There was to be no comeback from the visitors after the break, even as Kelantan lost their captain to a facial injury five minutes after the restart.

Gabriel Quak had the best chance for the visitors after bringing down a long ball from Firdaus Kasman perfectly and dashing into the box, but his tame shot straight at Khairul Fahmi was easily saved by the Kelantan custodian.

The LionsXII resorted to long balls up to Amri as time ticked down, but the striker was by now tightly marked by both Kelantan central defenders and posed little threat.

Substitute Firdaus had one last chance to recover some pride for the LionsXII after skipping past two markers in the box with a minute to go in injury time, but could only screw a shot into the side netting.

Photo: Association of Singapore