Quickfire goals from Khairul Amri and Zulfahmi Arifin gave the hosts a 2-0 lead at Jalan Besar Stadium, with both going close again later in the half. Shahfiq Ghani and Gabriel Quak also saw efforts well saved, as the LionsXII ended the first period well on top.
But it was a completely different scenario in the second half as the defending champions faded away and allowed the Gladiators to get back into the game. Rezal Zambery pulled one back on 75 minutes to cause a nervy end to the game, leaving coach Fandi Ahmad to proclaim the final whistle as a "relief" at the post-match press conference.
"I thought even though we won, we are not very happy with the performance of the second half," he asserted, adding that the team should have kept possession more instead of playing long balls.
"We could have killed off the game and this shows immaturity in the team; we need to play for 95 minutes every game, not 45. If this was a different (better) team, it could have been a draw."
Opposition coach B. Sathianathan concurred, acknowledging that his side lost the game in the first half.
“They kept the ball better, their movement was better and they were very free in midfield,” he pointed out. “I was just praying that we didn’t concede more than two goals and our goalkeeper kept us in the game.
“We were all over the shop but in the second half, we came back into the game. It would have been better to score in the first 45 minutes, but we didn’t.”The LionsXII now have 17 days until their next league assignment against Kelantan FA, which will allow some time for the likes of Shakir Hamzah, Safuwan Baharudin, Faritz Hameed, Zulfahmi Arifin and Madhu Mohana to recover from knocks.
Despite the injury problems, however, Fandi insisted that the fringe players in the team were still not ready to step up when asked whether he would consider utilising them.
"To put these boys under pressure, it's not fair for them or for the team, they still need more work," he asserted.
"Today, we wanted to put the younger ones if we went three or four up, but 2-0 is a dangerous score; no coach will change anybody. It’s not about their ability, but the pressure, they need time to get into a high level."