Tale of two halves
Fandi praises first-half show, but is scathing over team's immature second-half display
(Khairul Amri 16, Zulfahmi Arifin 21)
ATM FA 1
(Rezal Zambery 77)
Wanted: Players who can keep their focus and handle the pressure for 95 minutes, not just 45 minutes.
Even after seeing his LionsXII side deliver a desperately-needed victory when they beat ATM FA 2-1 last night to snap a month-long, three-match losing streak, coach Fandi Ahmad was not entirely pleased.
The reigning champions of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) had dominated the first half as they took 10 shots against just one by the opponents, who had to cope without eight key players because of injury.
In-form Khairul Amri was the star of the show at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
First, he powered home Shahfiq Ghani's 16th-minute corner and five minutes later, he turned provider.
Controlling the ball beautifully with his chest, Khairul released Zulfahmi Arifin down the right flank. Zulfahmi still had much to do, and he did so with aplomb, beating his man to cut inside before unleashing a wicked left-footed strike into the top corner.
But the hosts made their 5,188 fans sweat yet again, as slack defending allowed Rezal Zambery to pull one back when he found the bottom corner in the 77th minute.
In their last two games against Terengganu and Johor Darul Ta'zim, the LionsXII failed to hold on to leads and subsequently lost both matches.
Much to the relief of the home fans, there was no late heroics from the visitors as the LionsXII came away with a much-needed win.
At the post-match press conference, Fandi's first words mirrored what everyone linked to the LionsXII felt.
"What a relief," the 51-year-old exclaimed.
"I'm not happy with the second half because we didn't kill off the game and this shows immaturity.
"We need players to play right up to the final whistle and not just one half. If this were a different team and not a weakened ATM side, it could have been a draw," he conceded.
"Some players give up too easily. We have talented players, but if they don't buck up, they will be just another player.
"In the first half, we played superb attacking football, but came up against a good goalkeeper and couldn't get the third goal.
"But in the second half, we kept playing long balls and lost possession."
With the title realistically beyond them - the Singapore side are 10 points behind leaders Sarawak with five games to go - some have wondered why Fandi has not blooded the likes of Emmeric Ong, Ignatius Ang and Samuel Benjamin.
But the former national striker explained: "It's not fair to them or the team to put these boys under pressure. It's not about the quality, it's about whether they can handle the pressure.
"They played in friendlies in Myanmar and Indonesia and they need more work. If we had led 3-0 or 4-0 tonight, I might have played Emmeric, but we just could not get the third goal.
"We are in our current position because we don't have enough players who can handle the pressure. If we had better players, we will be near the top now."
The LionsXII, who are eighth in the MSL, now have a two-week break before their next match away to Kelantan, but they will have to face the Red Warriors in Kota Baru without suspended stand-in skipper Safuwan Baharudin.
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7, Faritz Abdul Hameed 7, Baihakki Khaizan 7, Safuwan Baharudin 7 (Hafiz Abu Sujad 57) 6, Shakir Hamzah 7, Gabriel Quak 6, Raihan Rahman 7.5, Zulfahmi Arifin 7.5 (Aqhari Abdullah 68), Faris Ramli 6.5, Shahfiq Ghani 7 (Firdaus Kasman 85), Khairul Amri 8
- ATM FA: Syed Adney, Ridzuwan Effendy, Park Yong Ho, Yusaini Hafiz (Safwan Hashim 31), Riduwan Ma'on, S Thinagaran, Venice Elphi, Rezal Zambery, Badrul Hisham, Bruno Martelotto (Juan Arostegui 31), Fabrice Noel (Ammar Aziz 76)
Shots: LionsXII 9 on target, 5 off target; ATM FA 2 on, 2 off
Corners: LionsXII 4, ATM FA
Offsides: LionsXII 1, ATM FA
Yellow cards: LionsXII 1 (Madhu Mohana), ATM FA 2 (Safee Sali, Izham Tarmizi)
Referee: Lismotia Mohem 5.5/10
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the Match: Khairul Amri
- Sime Darby 4 PKNS 1
- Pahang 1 Terengganu 4
- Selangor 0 Johor DT 1
- T-Team 1 Kelantan 0