|By Kenneth Tan
The signs were ominous – sprinting to get onto the end of a Faritz Hameed cross, controlling the ball with an assured first touch before slamming a shot into the back of the net past the goalkeeper.
That was LionsXII player Irwan Shah in action during Friday evening’s training session.
His side successfully claimed the three points in the first home game of the season last Saturday against Selangor FA but for Irwan, that slender win had a bittersweet taste.
Starting on the left side of midfield, the utility player got on the end of two excellent openings - one in each half - but a lack of composure saw him spurn both opportunities. He dawdled too long with a gaping goal in front of him after pouncing on half-cleared cross, allowing goalkeeper Norazlan Razali to recover in time to parry his shot away in the first half, before shooting straight at him when during a one-on-one situation in the second half.
Thus, it was a delight to watching Irwan putting away such a chance, never mind if it was only during training.
The 24-year-old scored twice in the LionsXII’S maiden Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign last year, and he readily admitted that he could do better.
“The finishing part – that’s where I have to work on it,” Irwan said with a wry smile.
“Last season I only scored twice. For me, I’m more of a natural defender so I have never set a goals target.
"Coach (V Sundramoorthy) has not told me much (about scoring goals) other than being composed in front of goal, but I’ll definitely try to score tomorrow (against Terengganu).”
Based on the two-hour long training session at Jalan Besar last night, it looks like Irwan will once again be deployed by Sundram on the wing again, and he is definitely relishing the chance to play in an advanced role with lesser defensive responsibilities.
“Actually there’s not much difference between playing left back and left mid, but if I have to choose – I prefer playing in the latter," Irwan said.
The LionsXII fell to their first defeat of the season against Selangor PKNS in a lacklustre affair at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday night, which saw the home side edge them by a goal, and it was a valuable lesson learnt for the ever-maturing Irwan.
“We lost focus in that last 20 minutes and conceded a goal – that’s where we have to learn,” he lamented.
“Another thing is the retaining of possession in the attacking half – we did not do that (against PKNS) and we need to work on that tomorrow.”
The LionsXII will have a chance to get back to winning ways, as they take on the 2011 Malaysian FA Cup champions on Saturday evening.
Irwan does point out that Terengganu resemble something of an unknown quantity, despite playing against them twice last season.
“I don’t know much about them,” he admitted.
“But I do know they have the foreigner (Jean-Emmanuel) Effa Owona (striker) whom we have to pay attention to."