No relegation, as LionsXII beat T-Team for 8th spot
(Faris Ramli 66)
He said he needed fighters but, in the end, cool heads were what helped Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII prevail and avoid any questions over relegation.
In the last game of the season, the LionsXII picked up their first victory in five Malaysian Super League (MSL) games with a 1-0 win away at T-Team in Terengganu.
The win left them in eighth place, avoiding the bottom two positions that would have called into question whether the LionsXII should be relegated.
Instead, it was the T-Team who dropped down to the Malaysian Premier League.
With so much at stake, the game threatened to boil over several times in the final 15 minutes, as news trickled down that results elsewhere meant the hosts were facing the drop.
The flashpoint arrived in the 76th minute, when LionsXII winger Nazrul Ahmad Nazari went down clutching his face after T-Team defender Goran Subara appeared to catch him.
The 1.87m-tall Aussie felt Nazrul was making the most of the challenge and yanked the 1.63m-tall winger off the ground by his sleeve.
Cue clashes between the two sets of players and even though referee Zohri Tajudin tried to restore order by booking both LionsXII striker Sufian Anuar and the home side's Patrich Wanggai, the tension was palpable.
The home fans, already livid after seeing their goalkeeper Shahril Saa'ri sent off in the 55th minute for a crude challenge on Sufian, were baying for blood.
They beckoned their players to clatter into the visitors and hurled verbal abuse every time a LionsXII player went down injured.
But Fandi's charges kept their heads on a swivel and saw the game out, with Faris Ramli's 66th-minute strike proving valuable.
The LionsXII coach said: "It was a real fight, this one.
"The boys did superb to keep their cool and carry out our soak-and-strike strategy well.
"We gambled with two strikers because we felt this was a game Sufian could do well in because of his work-rate and determination, and it paid off.
"In terms of our fighting spirit, it was our best showing this season."
Fandi said he was glad to see the end of a wretched MSL campaign which saw his side finish eighth, just a season after they won the title.
He said: "It was an up-and-down season for us, and we played good football occasionally but couldn't score enough.
"Hopefully, we'll see more goals and have a bit more luck in the Malaysia Cup."
T-Team coach Azraai Khor Abdullah stormed off after the game, but later emerged from the dressing room.
His side slipped out of the MSL cruelly on goal difference, after fellow strugglers ATM FA picked up a draw against Sime Darby.
He said: "We did our best tonight, but it was tough to play with 10 men.
"It has been a bad season for us and our players' performances have been like a yo-yo, very inconsistent. We paid the price for that."
SHOTS: T-Team 2 on 4 off; LionsXII 4 on 4 off
CORNERS: T-Team 2, LionsXII 3
OFFSIDES: T-Team 1, LionsXII 1
YELLOW CARDS: LionsXII 2 (Raihan Rahman 67, Sufian Anuar 78), T-Team 2 (Patrich Wanggai 78, Nik Zul Aziz 92)
RED CARD: T-Team (Shahril Saa'ri 55)
REFEREE: Zohri Tajudin 5/10
MATCH RATING: 6.5/10
MAN OF THE MATCH: Raihan Rahman (LionsXII)
- T-TEAM: Shahril Saa’ri, Faizal Muhammad, Marzuki Yusof, Goran Subara, Nik Zul Aziz, Ramzul Zahini (Wan Azrai Wan Teh 57), Khairan Ezuan (Badrul Hisyam 71), Hasbullah Awang, Patrich Wanggai, Nizad Ayub (Hattaphon Bun An 46), Jimmy Mulisa
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7, Madhu Mohana 6, Baihakki Khaizan 6, Safuwan Baharudin 7, Shakir Hamzah 6, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6 (Gabriel Quak 88), Raihan Rahman 7.5 (Aqhari Abdullah 70), Zulfahmi Arifin 6 (Afiq Yunos 92), Faris Ramli 6, Sufian Anuar 6.5, Khairul Amri 6