LionsXII vow to bounce back against JDTII in FA Cup
REPORTING FROM KUANTAN
(Matias Conti 36, R Gopinathan 65, Azidan Sairudin 77)
(Faris Ramli 15, Khairul Nizam 90+3)
It must not be easy being a footballer representing Singapore now.
As results continue to zoom south, every move is scrutinised, all mistakes magnified, and most positives are buried.
But there is nothing more the players can do except to stay defiant and continue to fight for that elusive victory.
As LionsXII defender Madhu Mohana told The New Paper after their 3-2 defeat by Pahang at the Darulmakmur Stadium last night: "We will not let our heads down, we are determined to bounce back immediately against Johor Darul Ta'zim II in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday."
There were glimpses of that resilience too, in the form of Khairul Nizam's injury-time consolation, even though they were already 3-1 down by then.
Unfortunately, the dark spell continues.
In a week where Singapore were held to a 2-2 draw by lowly Guam in an international friendly, and on a night when Courts Young Lions were thumped 5-1 by Balestier Khalsa in the S.League, it was left to the LionsXII to try and lift some spirits in Kuantan.
Which they did, for more than half an hour, when a simple one-two between Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi allowed the former to slot in from a tight angle and give the LionsXII a 15th-minute lead against the run of play.
It was all the more impressive considering they were without their top striker Khairul Amri, out of the matchday squad with a groin injury.
They were also missing their first-choice central defence, as Safuwan Baharudin had been loaned to Melbourne City and Afiq Yunos suffered a knee injury on international duty.
Nine of their players were also called up for international duty, which explained why some of them look tired.
In came right back Faritz Abdul Hameed, who coped admirably with speedy winger R Gopinathan in his first competitive match of the year, and an equally-rusty Nizam, who toiled ceaselessly even though he was isolated up front and grabbed a 93rd-minute consolation.
But that was it.
In between, the LionsXII displayed all the deficiencies that had frustrated fans who had followed Singapore football this year.
No one tracked Matias Conti, who powered in a headed equaliser in the 36th minute.
Gopinathan had all the time in the world to control Dickson Nwakaeme's pass and blast a shot beyond the solid Izwan Mahbud for a 65th-minute lead.
And the LionsXII just couldn't deal with a 77th-minute free-kick, which allowed Azidan Sairudin to profit and seal all three points, albeit by nudging the ball in with his arm at the post.
Coach Fandi Ahmad felt the LionsXII had put up a good fight, but were not a match for Pahang's big foreigners like Nwakaeme, Conti and Damion Stewart.
"We have to play faster and wider," he said. "We did well to score and I thought we could get something out of this match, but we lost our shape in the second half.
"It is good to have Faritz back, Chris (Christopher van Huizen) did well with the assist and Faris and Sahil combined well to score. Hopefully, we will have Amri fit again, and I'm sure the boys will have the character to get back to winning ways."
- Felda 1 Perak 4
- Johor DT 2 ATM 1
- Selangor 3 Sime Darby 2
- Terengganu 2 Kelantan 1