Shahril leads LionsXII back to MSL summit

The skipper scored one and made the other two to inspire his side to a comfortable victory against T-Team as they went clear at the top of the league again by one point
By Teng Kiat

The LionsXII retook the lead at the top of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) table on Saturday night as they comfortably saw off second-from-bottom T-Team 3-0.

Captain Shahril Ishak was the star of the show with an inspired performance that saw him grab the opener, and then make the other two goals as the home side cruised to victory in front of a 6,438-strong crowd.

The hosts were looking for an eighth consecutive home win and got off to a perfect start when they took the lead with their first attack of the evening in the ninth minute.

Faris Ramli and Hariss Harun exchanged passes before the former found Shahril with a low ball from the left. With his back to goal, the LionsXII skipper did superbly to turn and generate space for himself before flashing a low drive past a hapless Iqbal Suhimi in goal.

The LionsXII had the chance to extend their lead when Nazrul Nazari shrugged off his marker down the right to cross for Fazrul Nawaz, but his volley was deflected out for a corner.

From Shahril’s ensuing set-piece, the Titans gifted their opponents with the second goal with some abject defending. Left-back Shakir Hamzah was criminally left unmarked at the far post, and he accepted the present with a powerful header for his first-ever LionsXII goal.

It was all LionsXII by now and Shahril notched his second assist of the night when another superb corner was headed in from close range by Fazrul after he beat Iqbal to the ball and made it 3-0.

T-Team tried to rally and pushed former Dutch international George Boateng into attack, but they were met with a solid red wall that was first to every ball. The midfielder was even forced back from an advanced position on one occasion and ended up giving the ball away, as the LionsXII pressed their opponents hard.

Boateng persisted upfront after the break and nearly found himself in the clear just two minutes after the restart, but the excellent Shakir came across to make a vital intervention.

The visitors put up more of a fight in the second half and a 20-yard freekick was crashed off the post by Shafuan Adli on the hour mark. They were denied by the woodwork again five minutes later when Boateng headed Hafizan Talib’s right-wing cross on to the bar, with goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud well beaten on both occasions.

In between those two close-calls, Shakir was floored by a high boot from Mazlizam Mohamad, who was incredibly lucky not to see red. The full-back was stretchered off, but fortunately appeared to be fine at the end of the game, when he walked off the pitch to applause and chants from the home support.

Boateng couldn’t be faulted for not trying his best as he shimmied down the left and cut the ball back for Azrul Hazran in the 83rd minute, but Izwan flew out quickly to make the block. That was the LionsXII custodian’s last touch of the game, as he came off for debutant Khairulhin Khalid shortly after.

The LionsXII thought they had scored a fourth a minute from time after Faris coolly slotted home a delicious curled pass from Shahril at the far post, but an offside flag cut short the celebrations.

That would have been the icing on the cake, but it could not take away the gloss from a solid victory as the Singapore side climbed back to the summit of the MSL.