LionsXII 1-2 Kelantan FA
The LionsXII made an unhappy return to Malaysia Super League action after a three-week lay-off as they fell to a surprise 2-1 defeat against Kelantan FA at home on Saturday night.
The second-placed visitors were expected to pose a stiff challenge but the home team took the lead midway through the first half and looked set for three points, until two lapses in concentration proved to be their downfall after the break.
Fandi made two changes to the team that started against ATM FA in their 2-1 away victory last time out, with Sufian Anuar and Hafiz Sujad dropping to the bench for Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli.
It was the latter who nearly made an instant impact inside the first minute. The left winger appeared to be fouled by Obinna Nwaneri near the six-yard area after controlling a cross from Quak, but referee Zamdaidi Katimin waved off the appeals to howls of derision from the crowd.
If there was any rustiness in the LionsXII ranks after the international break, there was no sign of it as they poured forward at every opportunity.
Faris saw a shot deflected into goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi’s grateful arms, while Quak also had his attempt blocked after dancing past several defenders in the box.
The Red Warriors seemed content to play on the break with Francis Forkey Doe lashing two half-volleys wide, although he was otherwise starved of service despite Shakir Ali partnering him upfront.
It was no surprise that the pressure paid off on 25 minutes as the LionsXII took the lead after a well-worked move.
Shahfiq Ghani found himself in space on the left just outside the box and he was given time to pick out Khairul Amri with a delicate cross. Rushing into the centre to meet the ball, the striker cushioned a lovely side-footed finish past a hapless Khairul.
Five minutes later, the same combination came into play again but this time Amri drilled his grounder just wide of the right-hand post.
The intensity began to fizzle out from the LionsXII as the break approached though, with Doe coming close to equalising on 38 minutes as he forced Izwan to parry a snapshot.
But Steve Darby’s side pulled one back out of the blue soon after the restart.
A LionsXII break was halted and Tuan Faim sent a clearance upfield, which bounced awkwardly outside the box. With Afiq Yunos and Shakir Hamzah hesistant to clear, Fakri Saarani sneaked in to slide the ball in between Izwan’s legs as he came out a fraction too late.
Amri responded by releasing Firdaus Kasman with a neat reverse pass, but Nwaneri came sliding in with a perfect challenge in the box as the midfielder looked to pull the trigger.
Two defensive lapses then had the LionsXII supporters with their hearts in their mouths as Izwan saved well from Doe the first time round, before watching him blast the second effort wide.
That was to portend the late drama that followed. First, Shakir Ali was sent off in the 79th minute when he seemingly kicked out at Afiq in an off-the-ball incident, which encouraged the LionsXII players to surge forward for the winner.
Safuwan Baharudin was thrown forward, as has been the case so often this season, and the centre-back was left with his head in his hands after heading Zulfahmi Arifin’s corner against the bar with one minute of regulation time left.
But disaster struck in added time, when makeshift centre-back Isa Halim was caught out by Amar Rohidan’s through ball from the right.
With the LionsXII captain raising his hands in vain for an offside flag that never came, Doe coolly collected the pass and rounded Izwan to slot home for a shock winner to steal all three points for his side.