Defending Malaysia Super League champions LIONSXII claimed their first win in four games on Saturday after beating ATM 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Following successive defeats to Selangor, Terengganu and Johor Darul Ta’zim, the Singaporean outfit looked on course to respond in emphatic fashion as they claimed a two-goal lead inside 21 minutes thanks to strikes from Khairul Amri and Zulfahmi Arifin.
However, they took their foot off the pedal in the second half and allowed ATM to pull one back through a Rezal Zambery Yahya effort in the 77th minute, although they ultimately held on for all three points.
Having been challenged by coach Fandi Ahmad to get back to winning ways after throwing away a two-goal lead in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Darul Ta’zim, the LIONSXII came out with all guns blazing and had a golden opportunity to take the lead after 14 minutes.
Racing onto a visionary over-the-top ball by Shahfiq Ghani, Gabriel Quak looked odds on to open the scoring as he had only Syed Adney to beat but took too long to fire away and ended up stabbing his shot straight at the keeper.
But just two minutes later, the hosts broke the deadlock after Shahfiq lined up a corner and whipped a terrific ball into the six-yard box, where Amri proceeded to send an emphatic header into the back of the net.
And in the 21st minute, it was 2-0 as Amri turned provider after holding up the ball well before feeding Zulfahmi, who raced down the right and skipped inside an opponent before blasting a shot into the top corner.
By now, the LIONSXII were looking dangerous whenever they broke forward and could easily have added to their tally if not for some outstanding goalkeeping from Adney.
His opposite number, Izwan Mahbud, was having a relatively quiet evening but was finally called into action in the 38th minute when he made a fine reflex save to keep out Juan Arostegui’s firm shot, after Venice Elphi had beaten Faritz Hameed down the left before squaring the ball to the Argentinean.
A minute later, the hosts looked destined to score a third but were once again thwarted by Adney, who firstly denied Amri in a one-on-one situation before producing a flying save to keep out Zulfahmi’s blistering drive on the follow-up.
The LIONSXII did finally manage to beat him for a third time two minutes after the break when Faris Ramli latched onto Amri’s neat pass before firing away a shot that took a wicked deflection and looped over the ATM custodian, only to come back off the bar.
With the memory of Tuesday’s collapse still fresh in their memory, Fandi’s charges continued to press for another goal to wrap up the three points; Shahfiq coming close in the 69th minute with a rasping shot that drew yet another smart save from Adney.
Still, they failed to put away their opponents and 13 minutes from time, the Armed Forces pulled one back when Rezal Zambery received the ball just inside the box and rifled a shot past Izwan into the bottom corner.
Nonetheless, the visitors were just unable to find an equaliser in the remainder of the game as the LIONSXII held out for a much-needed victory.
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Hameed, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin (Hafiz Abu Sujad 57’), Shakir Hamzah, Raihan Rahman, Zulfahmi Arifin (Aqhari Abdullah 68’), Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani (Firdaus Kasman 85’), Gabriel Quak, Khairul Amri.
ATM: Syed Adney, Badrul Hisham Sufian, Park Yong-ho, Ridzuwan Effendy, Riduwan Ma’on, S. Thinagaran, Bruno Martelotto (Juan Arostegui 31’), Rezal Zambery Yahya, Venice Elphi, Yusaini Hafiz (Safwan Hasyim 31’), Fabrice Noel (Ammar Aziz 76).