LionsXII netted a late goal in the 83rd minute to secure a 1-1 draw and maintain a 4 point cushion over Fandi's second-placed Johor Darul Takzim with 3 matches left to play in the season (photo by Liew Tong Leng/FAS).
A sold out Jalan Besar stadium played host to the much anticipated top of the table clash between Singapore’s Lions XII and Johor’s Darul Takzim. With fears that the match could have been called off due to the recent hazy conditions in the Republic, it elements held their worst blows as PSI conditions stayed low and allowed play to continue.
With the clash of Singapore’s favourite footballing sons, Fandhi Ahmad and V.Sundramoorthy, the rivalry between the teams could not be underestimated as the Lions XII and JDT held the first and second spot in the MSL respectively. With their previous encounter ending in a draw, both coaches were now eager to establish superiority over their counterparts with the MSL title at stake.
With a 13 game winning streak backing their title charge, the hosts were confident that the home ground advantage would further increase their chances for a win as the jam packed Jalan Besar Stadium of 8,000 roaring fans ensured that the visitors felt the presence of the 12th man. Isa Halim made sure that the Southern Tigers would feel the heat as he crunched in on Andrezinho within 50 seconds of kickoff.
It was the Southern Tigers who settled in earliest however and were immediately on the offensive. With some clever link up play, Leonel George Nunez somewhat fortunately brought down a long punt from his own defence and cleverly skipped past Lions XII custodian, Izwan Mahbud for a simple tap in within nine minutes of play.
On the ascendency, the Souther Tigers were not threatening to extend their lead as the hosts were unable to find any sort of rhythm as passes were going astray and not able to find their mark. The best chance for the Lions came when Shahril Ishak’s looping free kick was tipped over the bar by Al Hafiz Hamzah, keeping the score at 1-0 at half-time.
The second half saw the hosts start off on the front foot as they piled on the pressure, determined to take the game to the visitors.
Faris Ramli’s presence was immediately felt as he steam-rolled down the left flank and only the most resolute of defending from the visitors prevented him from creating more chances. With Khairul Nizam and Shafiq Ghani brought on to beef up the attack, the Lions XII were determined to snatch the equaliser as the clock hit the 83rd minute of play.
A well delivered free kick from Shafiq found Faritz Hameed but his header was well punched away by Al Hafiz Hamsah. Before the crowd could react, Safuwan Baharudin crept in from behind and pounced on the loose ball netting the equaliser and sending the stadium into raptures.
Johor Red Card
The visitors were reduced to ten men after a reckless challenge by Aidil on Irwan Shah in the 87th minute was duly punished by the referee.
Despite the late pressure by the hosts, the game ended 1-1 with the Lions now firmly in the driving seat to clinch their first ever MSL title should they defeat Perak in their next match with the condition of Johor Darul Takzim and ATM FA dropping points.
“The boys know how crucial the next game is. If we had won today we would already have one hand on the cup. Hopefully everything else goes as plan and we get both our hands on the cup.” remarked Head Coach V.Sundramoorthy.
“We were disappointed with the result because we came here to get three points. We were well disciplined and organised in the first half but our second half let us down and with ten men, it only became harder.” quipped Johor’s Assistant Coach, Ismail Ibrahim, who was disappointed at how they conceded the equalising goal.