Tale of two halves as LionsXII salvage draw
(Faris Ramli 55)
(Vincent Bikana 9)
It was a case of "what ifs" for the LionsXII last night, as Fandi Ahmad's men fought back to salvage a 1-1 draw with Terengganu in their Malaysian Super League (MSL) match at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
What if Khairul Amri's brilliant shot in the 60th minute had not struck the upright?
What if Sahil Suhaimi's wicked freekick in injury time had bounced just a few centimetres further to cross the goalline?
Above all, what if the LionsXII had not started so sluggishly?
The 5,384 fans who showed up at Jalan Besar would agree that the LionsXII were poor in the first 45 minutes of action.
They simply could not get going after conceding a ninth-minute goal, when an unmarked Vincent Bikana rose highest to head home from a corner-kick.
There were plenty of aimless balls forward, poor touches and disjointed passing from the home side.
Utility man Wahyudi Wahid, starting at right back in place of the injured Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, seemed overawed by the occasion and was taken out of his misery by Fandi before half-time, replaced by Afiq Yunos on 34 minutes.
Only the heroics of LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud prevented Terengganu from adding to their early goal.
Fandi knew something had to be done.
He sacrificed his captain and midfielder Isa Halim for striker Sahil at the start of the second half and what an inspired switch it turned out to be.
Sahil tormented the Terengganu defenders with his pace and trickery, and eventually set up Faris Ramli for the equaliser 10 minutes after coming on.
The diminutive forward's presence on the pitch appeared to free Amri and Faris, but the winner proved elusive despite the home side coming close on several occasions.
The draw took the LionsXII up to eighth in the 12-team MSL on six points, although second-placed PDRM are just three points away.
After the match, Fandi rued his team's slow start.
"In the first half, I was disappointed because some players weren't in the game," said the coach.
"They took longer than expected to settle down.
"But we knew Terengganu are a first-half team, and that we are a better side in terms of fitness and speed.
"That's why we put Sahil on in the second half, and we could have scored three or four goals in the end.
"We should have won... What a waste."
Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman was disappointed with his side's failure to secure full points after taking the lead.
"Maybe we surprised ourselves after taking the lead," said the veteran coach.
"We relaxed and lost concentration.
"And, after that, the LionsXII brought on (Sahil), who made jinking runs and gave us plenty of problems.
"The LionsXII were very determined and fought aggressively.
"They were committed to finding the equaliser, and I have to salute them."
We should have won... What a waste.
— LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad