|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Teng Kiat
The LionsXII squeezed past defending champions Kelantan FA in a 1-0 victory on Saturday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium thanks to a late winner from Shahfiq Ghani, although they nearly paid for the lack of a cutting edge upfront.
A minute of silence was observed before kick-off in honor of the fallen soldiers at Lahat Datu, Sabah, in their fight against the Sulu rebels.
Having won all three of their home games this season, the LionsXII looked keen to extend that run as they went on the offensive from the first whistle.
Zulfahmi Arifin shot wide from Faris Ramli’s cutback in the second minute, before Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi had to be alert to deny Shahfiq after Faris sent him clear three minutes later.
Left-back Shakir Hamzah was next to try his luck with a 25-yard attempt straight at Khairul as the home crowd urged the team forward, although they were relieved to see the offside flag when Keita Mandjou buried a fine finish into the top corner at the other end.
The closest the visitors came to scoring in the first half was when captain Badhri Radzi’s 30-yard strike nearly caught out Izwan Mahbud but for all of their possession, the LionsXII failed to score as well.
The Red Warriors emerged with a more attacking mentality for the second half with Indra curling wide from range early on and Haris Safwan seeing his shot blocked at the edge of the box.
The LionsXII were being let down by their passing in the final third, with the ball often being underhit or just too hard as they displayed a lack of a cutting edge in front of goal.
Shahfiq did have the ball in the back of the net in the 66th minute but the striker was correctly flagged for offside after Obinna Nwaneri did well to step up just before Faris played the through pass.
Substitute Gabriel Quak then volleyed a good chance over from the edge of the box, before firing into the goalkeeper from a tight angle on the break with no teammates in support just as it looked like it wouldn’t be their night.
However with the clock ticking down, V. Sundramoorthy’s men finally got it right in the 88th minute.
Right-back Irwan Shah slipped an inch-perfect ball to Shahfiq, who made no mistake with a coolly-flicked finish past the onrushing Khairul to send the crowd wild and seal a fourth victory in as many home games for the LionsXII.