Defender Madhu shines in LionsXII's gritty draw
FELDA UNITED 0
Pre-match, he called on his teammates to shape up in defence.
And, last night, LionsXII centre back Madhu Mohana led by example with an imperious performance at the heart of his team's backline, helping the Singapore side record their first clean sheet of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season with a 0-0 draw against high-flying Felda United at the Selayang Stadium.
The lanky defender did not put a foot wrong as he shackled Felda's four-goal strike pairing of Liberian Edward Wilson and Zambian-born Australian Ndumba Makeche.
Wilson, who had earlier told The New Paper he was targeting a hat-trick last night, had a woeful game and was substituted just after the hour mark.
So impressive was Madhu's performance that the LionsXII hardly missed his regular partner Afiq Yunos, who could not recover from gout in time to take his place in the starting 11 and had to be deputised by midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin.
Madhu, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday, preferred to lavish praise on his teammates.
"Credit has to go to the team," he said. "We played to coach's instructions, stuck to the plan, stayed compact, and did what we wanted.
"To keep our first clean sheet in the MSL is a huge morale-booster for the team, especially away against one of the teams at the top half of the table."
The draw was enough to take Felda to the top of the table on goal difference while the LionsXII are ninth. The top 10 teams, however, are separated by just three points.
Felda coach Irfan Bakti conceded that Madhu had an excellent game.
"He was the best of their defenders, very disciplined," said the 63-year-old.
"They got the point because they defended very well as a team, getting men behind the ball very quickly."
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad described Madhu's performance as "superb", but rued his side's poor finishing.
They came close a number of times to finding the goal that could have secured a precious win, but failed to beat Farizal Harun in the Felda goal.
Winger Gabriel Quak spurned two golden opportunities in quick succession, first rounding Farizal in the 41st minute, only to be thwarted by a covering Felda defender, before putting his shot wide from close range two minutes later.
Madhu had the ball in the net in first-half added time after he diverted Faris Ramli's free-kick into goal, but he was rightly flagged for offside.
The profligacy continued in the second half, with Khairul Amri crashing a free-kick off the crossbar in the 63rd minute, before Isa Halim's effort from outside the box 10 minutes later whizzed just past the upright.
Felda were unlucky not to score themselves, with their biggest chance arriving in the 68th minute when Makeche wriggled past Zulfahmi and fired a low shot, which Izwan Mahbud did brilliantly to deflect wide.
Said Fandi: "Overall, it was a fantastic team performance.
"We studied videos of Felda and everyone worked hard and we managed to stop their key attackers tonight.
"Of course, I have to think about the four chances we missed, but I'm still happy. I can't ask for more from the players."
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULTS
- Pahang 2 Sime Darby 0
- PDRM 1 Selangor 4
- Johor Darul Ta'zim 2 Sarawak 1
- Terengganu 2 ATM FA 2
AT JALAN BESAR STADIUM THIS SATURDAY
- LionsXII v Terengganu (7.45pm)
BLOW BY BLOW
6 min Zulfahmi Arifin swings in one of his trademark free-kicks, but Khairul Amri heads it straight into the hands of Felda's goalkeeper.
42 Firdaus Kasman plays Gabriel Quak through, but the winger's attempted chip goes wide..
45 From a free-kick, defender Madhu Mohana heads the ball into the net. He runs off to celebrate, but the linesman raises his flag for offside.
64 Faris Ramli earns a free-kick at the edge of the box but Amri's superb effort comes off the crossbar.
68 Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud pulls off a superb save to deny Makeche Ndumba, tipping the big man's shot out for a corner.
72 Nazrul Nazari crosses to Amri, who lays the ball off for Isa Halim to shoot agonisingly wide.