Nazrul is now a force for the LionsXII down the right flank
Winger-turned-fullback is hot down LionsXII's right flank
JOHOR DT v LIONSXII
(Tomorrow, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
He has emerged as one of the most consistent players for LionsXII this season, and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari just wants to keep going forward.
The LionsXII travel to Larkin Stadium to take on Malaysian Super League (MSL) leaders Johor Darul Ta'zim in a mouth-watering clash tomorrow with the Singapore outfit riding high after beating title hopefuls Pahang FA 4-2 last Saturday.
Pahang were top of the MSL standings at the time, unbeaten in 12 games until the LionsXII cut them down at the Jalan Besar Stadium, and the loss saw JDT take over top spot.
A number of Fandi Ahmad's players were on song against Pahang, including 24-year-old Nazrul, who operated in his orthodox right wing role having been used mostly as a right back.
When asked by The New Paper about his recent form, Nazrul chuckled and said: "There's no secret lah. I just want to give of my best for the team.
"If coach Fandi wants me at right back, I'll play there. At left back, like against Sarawak, I'll play there, too.
"The main thing is I want a starting spot so I can help the team."
Despite standing at just 1.65m, it was his header that helped set up teammate Faris Ramli for the team's opener against Pahang.
In the second half, Nazrul had two fine shots at goal which were both superbly saved by Pahang's Malaysian international goalkeeper Khairul Azhan Khalid.
The diminutive winger also had a bright display in the LionsXII's last away game, a 4-2 loss to Terengganu, when Fandi's tactical reshuffle saw him deployed in midfield for the second half. He spun round two defenders to set up Hafiz Sujad for the LionsXII's second goal.
He admitted yesterday that he's enjoyed the recent freedom to attack and create chances.
"After playing as a right back, I've learnt to deal with wingers, so now I know the mistakes defenders make and I know how to play against fullbacks," he mused.
Nazrul has certainly come a long way since his debut season with the LionsXII in 2012.
For years, he has struggled to shake off the impression that he is simply a player blessed with pace, lacking in finesse and ideas to pick the right final pass.
Fandi's decision to deploy him on the right side of the backline this season, during a period when the team struggled with injuries to defenders, has turned out to be a masterstroke.
Nazrul even held his own against Asia's giants, when he played as right back in Singapore's stunning 0-0 with Japan in Saitama in a World Cup qualifier in June.
Now, with Faritz Hameed, the first-choice right back from the LionsXII's MSL-winning season of 2013, back from long-term injury, Nazrul could be deployed as a winger more regularly.
Modestly, Nazrul puts his improvement down to his teammates.
"The difference between me last year and now is that I've gained a lot of exposure and experience from my teammates," he said.
"And it helps that I've played alongside a lot of the current team for four years now, so the bond between us is strong."