Fandi welcomes squad depth

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad revealed his delight for Shahdan Sulaiman, and is counting on the benefits of rotating his squad as they prepare for away clashes against ATM FA and PDRM FA next week.

It was a smooth return to Malaysian Super League (MSL) action for the LionsXII after a hiatus of one and a half months as they dispatched strugglers ATM FA 3-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

A first-half own goal by ATM defender Fazly Alias, coupled with second-half strikes from Safuwan Baharudin and substitute Shahdan Sulaiman, was enough to give Singapore’s representatives all three points as they move up to seventh in the MSL table.

Shahdan’s return to scoring, seven months after his horrific fibula injury at the AFF Suzuki Cup, thrilled Fandi ahead of his side’s trip to play ATM again in Paroi next Tuesday, before taking on high-flying PDRM three days later at Shah Alam.

The inclusion of new players like Shakir Hamzah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Safirul Sulaiman and Shahfiq Ghani led the national legend to declare his squad are well-equipped for the upcoming challenges.

“I’m happy for Shahdan, who scored his first goal after so many months out,” said the 53-year-old at the post-match press conference.

“He gives us options, especially in the MSL where you just can’t depend on the two strikers in [Khairul] Amri and [Khairul] Nizam.

“Shahdan’s definitely not 100 per cent match fit yet, but you could see the different dimension he gave us when he dictated play with his passing abilities when he came on in the second half.

“The important thing now is for the team to stay focused and recover, because we travel on Monday and play on Tuesday, then travel again on Wednesday and play on Friday. 

“That’s where our other options on the bench come in and we can rotate with this good pool of players.”

Fandi was proud his men secured a crucial win – their third in a row – against their opponents on Saturday, but still admitted the side can improve over time.

“The most important thing is the result, although we only played well in patches,” he said.

“We created a lot of chances but you can see the fatigue coming in. Both teams were a bit jaded due to Ramadhan, that’s why we can’t push any more than we have and I felt the boys gave their all.

“There was a lapse of concentration that resulted in their [ATM’s] first goal, but overall I think we deserved to win.”

For this match, Fandi had opted to shift Safuwan back to defence alongside Madhu Mohana, while restoring Zulfahmi Arifin to his favoured position in the middle of the park.

After a lacklustre first-half which saw the LionsXII breaking the deadlock via a fortuitous own goal however, the trainer opted to switch the two back to the makeshift roles they occupied over the past couple of months to good effect.

That tactical switch worked a treat as Safuwan scored five minutes after the restart to calm the nerves of the Jalan Besar supporters.

“Definitely, I thought it paid off,” explained Fandi when quizzed about his decision.

“I thought Zul was doing okay but we needed to move faster. Zul can sometimes be a bit too slow in spraying passes, and we needed more urgency there (in midfield).

“He played well in Japan because we had three defensive midfielders but today we had two, so he naturally struggled a bit there after so many months without playing in that position. That’s why I told him to move into defence in the second half.

“With Safuwan in midfield, I thought we played more penetrative passes. With his aerial superiority, he also knocked down some good headers and held the ball well for others to get into position.”

Image credit: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo