Safuwan makes it end well for the LionsXII
Fandi delighted with win after seeing many decisions go against LionsXII
JOHOR DARUL TA'ZIM II 1
(Nicolas Delmonte 72-pen)
(Safuwan Baharudin 23, 90+3)
At the final whistle, the LionsXII players, backroom staff and fans at the Pasir Gudang Stadium let out a defiant, almighty roar.
Why shouldn't they, after they snatched all three points in their Malaysia Cup Group A match against Johor Darul Ta'zim II on a night when few things seemed to go their way?
First, the officials awarded a dubious penalty to the hosts for Nicolas Delmonte to score the equaliser.
Then, a seemingly legitimate free-kick goal by Khairul Amri was disallowed.
As if that wasn't enough, the referee waved away a good penalty claim by the LionsXII after Hasbullah Abu Bakar handled Faris Ramli's shot in the box.
But Fandi Ahmad's men dug deep and initiated wave after wave of attacks.
They were finally rewarded at the end of a crazy 25-minute spell when Safuwan Baharudin headed in a stoppage-time winner after JDT II goalie Zulfadhli Mohd fumbled Christohper van Huizen's cross.
Safuwan had also scored the 23rd-minute opener when he prodded in at the far post off Faris' free-kick.
"Justice has been served," Fandi told The New Paper, after seeing his team join Kedah at the top of Group A on four points, with the LionsXII behind only on goal difference.
"And you know what, this type of victory will only spur us even further.
"Sahil (Suhaimi) did very well and was unlucky to hit the bar twice. Then we suffered one dubious decision after another, but I saw that fire and desire that was missing when we drew 1-1 against Kedah.
"To do so in an away game is very satisfying, and we have to keep up this positive mindset."
This was the LionsXII's first away win in seven attempts and sets them up nicely for next week's show- down against Terengganu, who will miss key striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and defender Hafiazal Mohd through suspension.
While goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud kept his team in the game with three top saves, Safuwan hogged the attention after the referee ruled him offside and disallowed Amri's 81st-minute free-kick.
The 23-year-old Safuwan had stood behind the wall once to distract Zulfadhli without any objections from the officials, but was flagged after Amri scored.
Safuwan told TNP: "That was just inconsistent. I stopped moving before Amri shot, so I wasn't interfering with play.
"But what matters in the end is we got the three points when we need it.
"If we had dropped points after all the bad calls, we would have been discouraged.
"Instead, we go into our next match with good morale and we are confident we can progress to the next round."
JDT II: Zulfadhli Mohd, Che Rashid Che Halim (Hasbullah Abu Bakar 88), Baihakki Khaizan, Kamarul Afiq Kamarudin, Fandi Othman, Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak, Nicolas Delmonte, Akram Mahinan, Irfan Fazail (Ramzi Haziq Mohd 65), Shafiq Shahrudin (Akmal Ishak 61), Shahril Ishak
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 8, Faritz Abdul Hameed 7, Madhu Mohana 6.5, Shakir Hamzah 7, Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 7 (Christopher van Huizen 76) 7, Izzdin Shafiq 7, Safuwan Baharudin 8, Faris Ramli 7, Sahil Suhaimi 7.5 (Sufian Anuar 82), Khairul Amri 6.5 (Afiq Yunos 90)
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULTS
- Johor DT I 3 ATM 2
- Perak 1 Sarawak 0
- Selangor 1 T-Team 0
- PDRM 3 Penang 3
- Pahang 2 PKNS 0
Shots: JDT II 4 on target, 3 off target; LionsXII 3 on target, 9 off target
Corners: JDT II 5, LionsXII 6
Yellow cards: JDT II 2, LionsXII 3 (Safuwan Baharudin, Faritz Hameed, Hafiz Abu Sujad)
Offsides: JDT II 4, LionsXII 2
Possession: JDT II 45 per cent, LionsXII 55 per cent
Referee: Amirul Izwan Yaacob 5/10
Match rating: 7.5/10
TNP Man of the Match: Safuwan Baharudin (LionsXII)
When you deploy him as a striker, he doesn't score. When you don't, he delivers a match-winning brace. But that is how important he is to the team.
Safuwan also exemplified bravery when launching himself into 50-50 challenges. Sure, sometimes it results in unnecessary bookings, but this is one player who is willing to put his body on the line for the team.