LionsXII dominated, but not demolished by Kelantan
(Jonathan McKain 6, Badhri Radzi 42)
Play had come to a standstill on the pitch, but all at once, in one voice, almost all of the 22,000 packed into Kota Baru's Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium let out a collective roar.
The stadium announcer had declared that there would be four minutes of time added on, and Kelantan clearly wanted more of it; not to get back in the game or win it - the Red Warriors were already two goals up and cruising - but to demolish the visiting LionsXII.
Kelantan ran out 2-0 winners over the Singapore side in last night's Malaysian Super League (MSL) encounter, controlling possession easily and creating numerous opportunities in near-complete domination.
But there was to be no demolition.
Indeed, led by a gargantuan performance from Madhu Mohana in the heart of defence, Fandi Ahmad's charges may wonder if they could have got something from the game.
"They dominated the game, yes, but I don't think they created open chances.
"In the first 15 minutes, we did look shaky in midfield... and gave the ball away too many times," said Fandi, who was disappointed to leave Kota Baru without any points.
Isaac Pupo was the main reason the Singapore side could not get a foothold in midfield as the Liberian international incessantly bullied his way into possession and then showed his classy side, either with a deft touch to get out of trouble or an incisive pass to turn defence into attack.
It was Kelantan's Australian defender Jonathan McKain who set the tone for the match.
In the sixth minute, he lost Afiq Yunos and rose highest to power home a header off a Fitri Omar corner.
The Red Warriors hummed and, with Pupo expertly pulling the strings in the middle of the park, there was little the LionsXII could do, except brace themselves for wave after wave of Kelantan attacks.
Kelantan skipper Badhri Radzi added the second in the 42nd minute, expertly guiding a free-kick past Izwan Mahbud and into the far corner, this after he seemed to go to ground a little too easily under a challenge from substitute Sufian Anuar.
Sufian had come on for the unfortunate Khairul Nizam, the injury-plagued forward who lasted a mere 24 minutes before hobbling off the pitch clutching his troublesome right knee.
But Fandi drew several positives from the game, especially the way his defenders held up to the pressure from the home side.
"Overall I'm happy with the performance. We never gave up till the final whistle and the back four did very well, especially Nazrul Nazari, who's the smallest player on the pitch, and Madhu and Afiq," he said.
With regular right back Faritz Hameed still nursing a knee injury, and stalwart Safuwan Baharudin on loan to A-League side Melbourne City, the 2015 backline of the LionsXII has taken a distinctly different shape.
Their inability to deal with set-pieces remains a weakness.
"Set-pieces win you games, and we work on that every single week," said Kelantan coach, George Boateng.
"We knew the LionsXII would come here to play for a draw and that's why we played with two forwards, and Piya (captain, Badhri Radzi) behind them.
"The chances were there, but we were too individualistic in the second half."
The former Middlesbrough midfielder was quick to rain plaudits on Pupo.
"He is a crowd-pleaser and his distribution is phenomenal... it took me only 10 minutes to decide that he is the right kind of player we want in Kota Baru," said 39-year-old Boateng.
The result sees Kelantan jump to the top of the table, with a 100 per cent record, with the LionsXII sitting in sixth spot in the 12-team league.
Fandi's charges will travel to Ipoh next to face a high-flying Perak side on Saturday.
"It was fantastic here, with the packed stadium and fans getting behind (Kelantan), the boys lack exposure and calmness, but I hope they can learn from this," said Fandi.
"Perak will be a tough game."
Overall I’m happy with the performance. We never gave up till the final whistle and the back four did very well.
- LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad