LionsXII 3 ATM FA 1: Third successive league win for Fandi’s boys
ATM defender Fazly Alias inadvertently headed into his own goal to give the LionsXII a 1-0 lead before half time, with Safuwan Baharudin increasing the hosts’ advantage shortly after the restart.
Fazly pulled one back for the Gladiators thereafter, but there was no stopping the recently-crowned Malaysia FA Cup champions from running out winners on the night as substitute Shahdan Sulaiman scored six minutes before the end.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad handed starts to eight of the players who were involved in the nation’s draw against Japan in Saitama on Tuesday, later also fielding Khairul Nizam as a late substitute.
Despite being favourites to win the clash, they had to bide their time to break down a gritty ATM side who seemed determined to play for the draw.
Nizam and Faris Ramli saw their ambitious overhead efforts fly wide of goal, before Izzdin Shahfiq’s volley took a slight deflection which helped it past the right-hand post much to the relief of ATM goalkeeper Syed Adney.
Faris then saw his attempted lob from close range go horribly wrong, before Amri’s 25-yard free-kick came agonisingly back off the bar.
Those misses could have come back to haunt them on 33 minutes as Venice Elphi went through on goal after latching onto captain Hairuddin Omar’s neat through-ball, but the left winger’s low shot was well blocked by Izwan Mahbud’s legs.
Surviving that scare, the LionsXII duly broke the deadlock six minutes later via the unlucky Fazly, whose botched clearance on Faris’ freekick took it beyond the reach of the stranded Adney.
Things got even better after the break when they doubled their advantage six minutes after the restart.
Faris picked up Gabriel Quak’s low cross flew across the goalmouth before teeing up Safuwan, the latter who unleashed a sizzling first-time drive into the bottom corner.
Fandi’s side should perhaps have put the game beyond the visitors’ reach right before the hour mark, but their efforts were foiled by a superb double-save from Adney on Nizam’s flick and Faris’ subsequent follow-up.
The LionsXII were made to pay four minutes later as the Gladiators pulled one back via now-familiar Fazly, who was left unmarked in the six-yard box to head home Mario Karlovic’s outswinging corner and partially compensate for his own-goal in the process.
Quak and Madhu spurned opportunities thereafter to restore the two-goal lead, though fears of a comeback from ATM were not realised as LionsXII scored the killer third goal in the 84th minute.
Substitute Shahdan, coming off the back of a lengthy injury, had replaced Nizam three minutes earlier and strode onto a Safuwan flick-on before firing a precise left-footed effort in off the post from eight yards out.
That sealed all three points for LionsXII who have now made it three MSL wins in a row, following earlier victories against Sarawak FA and Sime Darby to win three in a row in the league.
Main image: LionsXII