LionsXII staged a remarkable second half comeback, recovering from two goals down to gain a point at Johor
Although it’s still early in the season, it’s fair to say that if Johor Darul Ta'zim were to miss out on the Malaysian Super League title by a point of two, then this collapse will be the first match that fans point to when wondering where things went wrong.
Two goals to the good and cruising, they even felt comfortable enough to being off irresistable playmaker Pablo Aimar, who scored one and assisted the other, then it all went wrong! Two goals in three minutes by Lions XII rescued the unlikeliest of points, and as the game went on, they looked much the liklier of the teams to grab the three points.
Such Johor turmoil seemed unthinkable at half time after both their Argentines lit up the Larkin Stadium in the first 45 minutes. It took 28 minutes for the Lions XII defence to finally be breached, but it was a goal of the highest quality that did it. Aimar controlled a ball forward from his defence before spinning beautifully, and releasing Luciano Figueroa who showed absolute coolness to send Izwan Mahbud the wrong way and slide home.
On 42 minutes Aimar proved what a magician he is, to extend the lead of his team with a terrific free-kick. Amri Yayhah earned the set-piece twenty-five yards out after being felled by Afiq Yunos, and the Argentinian made no mistake as he curled home the classiest of strikes.
For the remainder of the first period, and into the second, the Lions looked shellshocked as Johor’s attacking play seemed to click into place with Aimar, Yahyah and Azwan Roya combining well; with support from Rahim and Shakir Shaari behind them. Roya, who looked sharp throughout, popped up on the right wing on the hour, beating his man and crossing for Figueroa, but the striker couldn’t add to his tally for the evening hitting the ball into the ground.
Soon after this and the home side visibly took their foot off the gas, with the withdrawals of Rahim and Aimar disrupting the flow of the team, and giving the iniative to the visitors. While Aimar was most probably being protected, after an off the ball elbow by Madhu Mohana, it was a substitution which gave the reigning champions a visible boost.
On 66 minutes they pulled a goal back in the simplest of fashions. Mohana launched another one of his trademark long throws into the Johor box, and Khairul Amri Kamal simply showed more desire to get in-between international defenders Aidil Zafuan and Baihakki Khaizan who were as mobile as statues.
Three minutes later and unbelievably the game was level. Again it was Baihakki Khaizan who was at fault, misjudging a ball forward which allowed Khairul Amri to spin him, and put in a cross to the far post. With players waiting in the middle, Nazrul Nazari showed great presence of mind to cut the ball back for Safuwan Baharudin. While his low effort was well saved by Norazlan Razali, the keeper couldn’t keep hold of the ball, allowing Hafiz Sujad to tap into an empty net.
Worryingly for Johor, they never at any stage looked capable of getting back into the lead, with substitute Amirulhadi Zainal looking particularly unimpressive, and full-back Fazly Mazlan lucky not to see red after a shocking foul on Baharudin.
The Singapore team almost nicked it with five minutes remaining following a slick counter attack that involved Faritz Hameed and Nazrul Nazari, setting up Baharudin with a free run on goal. With only the keeper to beat he tried to go around Razali, but the keeper got a vital touch on the ball, halting his momentum and allowing Zainal to clear.