Hafiz's day as LionsXII beat Perak 2-1
Defender's equaliser propels Fandi's men to win and move into MSL's top half
(Hafiz Abu Sujad 45+1, Safuwan Baharudin 53)
(Woong Namkung 12)
Just a day before the match, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad jokingly asked his left back when was the last time he scored.
It was actually two weeks ago when Hafiz Abu Sujad got the opener in the 1-1 draw at ATM FA, and that was only his second goal of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season after he notched his first in the 5-3 win over PDRM FA on the opening day in February.
Last night, the 24-year-old answered his coach in the best way possible by firing in the equaliser just before half-time and clearing off the line in the second half, as the LionsXII came from behind to beat Perak 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in front of 3,108 fans.
"Hafiz is a silent worker, and today he really made his presence felt with key contributions at both ends," said Fandi.
"When everyone chips in - even our smallest player Nazrul Nazari was winning headers - then we have a good shot at climbing the MSL table."
The LionsXII are making a late charge up the table, breaking into the top half after yesterday's results, as they prove nigh on impossible to beat on home turf.
Unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions this year, there was no panic when they fell behind to Woong Namkung's header in the 12th minute.
There was no finger-pointing when simple passes went astray and attempted counter-attacks led to nothing.
There wasn't even a yellow card, as they kept their discipline and shape.
Instead, there was belief in the LionsXII ranks that they could mount a comeback, just like they did against Perak, Terengganu and Sime Darby earlier in the season.
And so they probed patiently, until Perak's defence broke down just before half-time.
The outstanding Hafiz overlapped from his left-back position to pounce on a botched clearance by Thiago Junio and slot home the equaliser.
Safuwan Baharudin then claimed his third goal in seven games after rejoining the LionsXII, when he tangled with Thaigo for a header that bounced into the net.
It could have been an own goal, but the LionsXII didn't care, as they looked to seal another win to send a message to the rest of the competition.
From then on, they defended resolutely, with captain and goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud being called upon to make an outstanding double save from Horace James and Charles Chad in the 77th minute.
And when Izwan looked beaten, Hafiz popped up to clear Chad's header off the line in what was a true team win.
Fandi said: "We showed character and maturity, and that we have grown as a team.
"Now that we are at this level, we cannot regress. We will have a break for Hari Raya before resuming the season next month, when we have seven games in 21 days.
"But four of them are at home, and even if they are against the top teams, we have to be confident that if we continue playing like we have done recently and, with the fans supporting us, we can win these matches."
The LionsXII are unbeaten in 10 games at home in all competitions this year.
- ATM 0 Felda 4
- Pahang 3 Sarawak 1
- PDRM 1 Kelantan 3
- Sime Darby 0 Terengganu 2
BLOW BY BLOW
12 min: GOAL! The LionsXII get off to a bad start, as Perak striker Namkung Woong heads in Tuah Iskandar's searching ball.
45 +1: GOAL! Faris Ramli's pass is poorly cleared by Thiago Junio, and Hafiz Abu Sujad pops up to smash in the equaliser.
51: Khairul Amri goes for the spectacular, chesting down Izwan Mahbud's long ball before unleashing a 30-metre half-volley that just sails wide.
53: GOAL! Shahdan Sulaiman's perfect free-kick is headed in by Safuwan Baharudin at the back post.
65: Amri's free-kick seems destined for the top corner, but Perak goalkeeper Zamir Selamat palms it away.
83: Charles Chad's header off a Nurridzuan Abu Hassan corner looks to be going in, but Hafiz hacks it clear to preserve the LionsXII's slender lead.
SHOTS: LionsXII 7 on target, 8 off target; Perak 4 on target, 10 off target
CORNERS: LionsXII 5; Perak 5
YELLOW CARDS: LionsXII 0; Perak 3
OFFSIDES: LionsXII 0; Perak 1
POSSESSION: LionsXII 56 per cent; Perak 44 per cent
MATCH RATING: 7/10
REFEREE: Nafeez Abdul Wahab 7/10
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7.5, Nazrul Nazari 7.5, Madhu Mohana 7, Shakir Hamzah 7, Hafiz Abu Sujad 8, Izzdin Shafiq 7, Safuwan Baharudin 7.5 (Khairul Nizam 87), Shahdan Sulaiman 7 (Firdaus Kasman 80), Gabriel Quak 6.5 (Christopher van Huizen 72), Khairul Amri 6.5, Faris Ramli 6.5
PERAK: Zamir Selamat, Nasir Basharudin, Charles Chad, Idris Ahmad, Nurridzuan Abu Hassan, Tuah Iskandar (Amirul Azhan Aznan 66), Woong Namkung (Horace James 46), Hisyamudin Shaari, Thiago Junio, Fikri Sudin (Hafiz Ramdan 74), Raffi Nagorgani