I was rather surprised with the result. The LionsXII were toothless up front, and they were missing that creative element in the middle since Shahril Ishak was moved up the field to play a striking role. Still, they managed to carve out a win with admirable resilience and discipline.
Sabah were relentless in their attacks, they had the visitors pegged back in their own half for long periods and they had the support of the home crowd, but a win for them was just not to be. It was a disappointing performance and their Australian forward Michael Baird had it all etched on his face.
Boasting the likes of Baird and Brendan Gan, players who had once played in the A-League, Sabah were the favourites going into the match. But the LionsXII did well to stifle their attacks, limiting the Malaysians to long range efforts that went very wrong most of the time. Baihakki Khaizan was once again solid in defence, the giant defender always calm and composed under pressure in the penalty area. Hariss Harun did well to score today, albeit getting some help from a deflection off a Malaysian defender, but credit to him for getting into space and away from his markers. The midfield dynamo had a tireless game and whilst he had a seemingly quiet 90 minutes, he was nevertheless the vital fulcrum for the LionsXII’s counter attacks and distribution. This is only Game 4 of the MSL, but the potential this young man has for future is tellingly immense. Barring injuries, I reckon Hariss will be having a very successful season. Izwan Mahbud would be happy with his clean sheet and a commanding performance, though I fear that ankle of his might soon be giving him problems again.
But it is not to say that the LionsXII played well.
Truth be told, they were poor retaining possession, hardly incisive going forward and they lacked the killer instinct to put the nail in the coffin. It was a scrappy victory, but at this stage in the competition, I’m sure Sundram will agree with me that the three points earned will prove to be a massive boost to confidence.
I hope that the team will be able to shed their immaturity in the coming games and develop a more compact and cohesive attack. Without Agu Casmir and Khairul Nizam up front today, the lack of a goal scoring threat was all too obvious. There were several times in the match when the LionsXII could’ve finished off the game, but nerves and inexperience ultimately thwarted their attempts. When the cross into the six-yard box should have been cushioned and fired on goal, it was disappointingly controlled and stabbed out of bounds. When a shot on goal should’ve been taken, it was instead passed or held on for too long. It’s a little bit like the Liverpool of today – so many chances, so little goals.
The LionsXII have scored 4 goals so far, two of which came from set pieces, one courtesy of some shambolic goalkeeping and an own goal. It is worrying that they’ve won two of their matches not through their sheer competence in front of goal but with a dependence on the opposition’s mistakes.
The LionsXII have won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1 now. Full marks for effort. I can’t say the same for skill and flair.
All we can do now is hope that with a few more matches under their belt, the LionsXII will finally shed those baby teeth and bare the fangs that can win them some silverware.
Only time will tell.