The LionsXII picked up their first Malaysian Super League (MSL) win in eight games after edging Sarawak FA by the odd goal at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening.
Khairul Nizam’s second-half header settled a tight affair that was played out in front of 4,748 fans, as the Singaporeans earned their first three points since their opening-day win against PDRM FA.
VIEW ALSO Gallery: LionsXII 1 Sarawak 0
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad opted to keep faith with largely the same starting XI that played in the recent 2-0 cup win against Johor Darul Ta’zim II, with only Raihan Rahman coming in for the suspended Hafiz Sujad.
On the other hand, Sarawak counterpart Robert Alberts chose to go with an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation which nearly paid dividends for the visitors in the first 10 minutes.
Ashri Chuchu fired wide from close range after Ryan Griffiths had slipped him through, with the latter soon lashing off-target after being set up by Shreen Thambi.
The LionsXII eventually settled in, with Madhu Mohana just failing to make enough contact with Faris Ramli’s corner on 16 minutes.
Faris then went for it himself after collecting the ball off teammate Khairul Amri, but was unable to keep his shot on target.
It was the Crocs who ended the half on a higher note though, centre-back Nyema Patrik Gerhardt getting his head to Griffith’s freekick but watching the ball bounce off the turf before going over.
With things not going his team’s way, Fandi withdrew Syafiq Zainal for Gabriel Quak on the right side of attack after the restart – a move which nearly paid off on 57 minutes.
Quak collected Faris’ slide-rule pass and raced into the box, but his resulting shot was deflected over the bar by Ronny Harun.
The breakthrough was coming though, the rejuvenated Nizam eventually breaking the deadlock two minutes later.
The 23-year-old reacted quickest to a rebound in the six-yard box after his initial flick from Amri’s cross came off Sarawak defender Mohd Hairol Mokhtar, heading beyond goalkeeper Mohd Fadzley Rahim’s outstretched left arm and into the net.
Further opportunities for Fandi's men to double their lead quickly followed, with Amri’s 25-yard free-kick parried by Fadzley before Firdaus Kasman came inches away from getting the decisive touch on his teammate’s dangerous ball across the goalmouth.
Those missed opportunities could have come back to haunt them, but Sarawak was denied an equaliser by a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing on their part.
The best chance came in the 71st minute when Griffith’s left-wing cross eluded everyone in the LionXII box to reach Thambi at the back post, but Izwan Mahbud came out tops to deny the latter from point-blank range.
Substitute Nazri Kamal then headed wide after being set up by Thambi, before Gerhardt produced an audacious flick from Ivan Fatic’s corner which sailed agonisingly past the right-hand post.
Eventually, it was the LionsXII who managed to see out a win that ensured they leapfrogged Sarawak to go eighth in the table.
They will next travel to Stadium Majlis Perbandaran Selayang to take on bottom-dwellers Sime Darby next Saturday.
Main image: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments