By Khidhir Kassim
In front of 7,479 fans expectant fans, the Armed Forces of Malaysia invaded the Jalan Besar Stadium promising an entertaining encounter given their attack-minded nature, but the crowd was left disappointed in the first half, with both teams prodding at each other cautiously.
However, all that changed in the 55th minute when Marlon Alex James, dubbed the "goal-machine", latched onto a K. Reuben long ball and sprinted past a static LIONSXII defence, before casually stroking an effort into the bottom corner.
Spurred on by the introduction of crowd favourite Sufian Anuar into the game, the hosts regrouped and hit back with a trademark set-piece goal when Safuwan Baharudin rose past Reuben to nod home the equaliser.
Izwan Mahbud - 7
The LIONSXII custodian could do little to keep out James' clinical opener but otherwise showed clean hands all game long and can be pleased with his display.
Irwan Shah - 6.5
Irwan struggled at times to cope with both D. Christie Jayaseelan and Fitri Omar, who took turns to give him a headache.
Nonetheless, the 23-year-old stuck to his task manfully and was far from the LIONSXII's worst player on the night.
Baihakki Khaizan - 7
The Singapore international had a terrific first half, keeping James completely under wraps, and was on track for man-of-the-match honours.
However, he was culpable for ATM's opener when he let the Vincentian slip in behind him, but deserves plenty of credit for a tremendous show of bravery to play just hours after a family bereavement.
Safuwan Baharudin - 8
With the Armed Forces opting to play a lone striker, Safuwan was allowed to drop off and mop of any messes that occurred in the LIONSXII defensive third.
And he once again displayed his attacking prowess by coming to his side's rescue in the 81st minute, leaping highest in the six-yard box to send a thumping header into the back of the net.
Shaiful Esah (off 61')- 7
Shaiful was unable to provide the penetrating runs down the left that he usually produces on a regular basis, but his job was to defend first and foremost, and he did just that by nullifying the threat of Christie.
Nonetheless, the skilful left-back will perhaps be slightly disappointed he wasn't able to produce better deliveries from a couple of set-piece situations in the opening 45.
Hariss Harun - 7
Hariss usually does his best work as a box-to-box midfielder but he was deployed as an anchorman on Friday evening to fill in for the suspended Isa Halim, and did well enough as a shield in front of his backline.
Still, it was clear the LIONSXII missed his drive from the middle of the park.
Firdaus Kasman (off 74') - 5.5
With Hariss pushed back to defensive-midfield, Firdaus was expected to step up and provide the hosts with plenty of drive but he failed miserably, and it was no surprise to see him replaced in the 74th minute.
Shahdan Sulaiman - 7.5
The silky playmaker took awhile to get into his groove but when he eventually found his rhythm, he looked the likeliest source of a LIONSXII goal with his visionary passing and dangerous deliveries into the box.
Nine minute from time, he did just that with a pinpoint cross onto the Safuwan, who proceeded to net the equaliser.
Shahril Ishak - 7
Unlike three days ago when his brace helped the LIONSXII beat Pahang 2-0, Shahril was unable to find the back of the net on Friday, but still did reasonably well enough.
He kept the ATM defenders on their toes with his nifty footwork, drawing plenty of fouls in dangerous areas and eventually won the freekick that led to his side's equaliser.
Safirul Sulaiman - 6.5
As usual, Safirul provided his side with plenty of running but he failed to fully exploit the space afforded to him, especially given Christie's attacking instincts meant he was normally in a one-on-one situation with Reuben.
Agu Casmir (off 78') - 6
Promised a start after his display against Pahang, Casmir did well to hold up the ball and actually gave Aidil Zafuan plenty of problems with his strength.
However, the Nigerian-born striker let himself down with what he did after retaining possession in the final third, and will be lucky to remain in the starting XI come the second leg.
Sevki Sha'ban (on 61') - 6.5
Sevki's introduction provided the LIONSXII defence with added stability but unfortunately for the ex-Geylang United man, his night ended early after picking up an injury.
Yasir Hanapi (on 74') - 6
Yasir provided the hosts with plenty of energy after coming on but in the couple of occasions he found space down the right, he failed to deliver a good ball into the area.
Sufian Anuar (on 78') - N/A
Sufian may not have had enough time to impress after replacing Casmir with just 12 minutes replacing, but given the reception the Jalan Besar faithful gave him, he may just find himself starting next week.
Farizal Harun - 4
The former Negri Sembilan custodian did not excel in what little he had to do. He put in a nervy performance and his lack of communication with his defenders must be addressed before next game.
K. Reuben - 7
A solid performance at right-back, the 22-year-old impressed Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee who was present and will be a welcome addition for their Newspaper Cup campaign in Vietnam. Reuben covered Aidil Zafuan well and looked threatening every time he came forward.
It was also the defender's accurate long-range pass to James which sent the striker through for ATM's only goal of the night. His only blip was allowing Safuwan to equalise from an 81st-minute free-kick.
Aidil Zafuan - 5
The Malaysian international was a slow-starter and took his time to adapt to the pitch.
Aidil had his hands full with Agu who kept sprinting past him, but was composed and experienced enough not to make any mistake with his second chances.
Irwan Fadzli - 7
The 31-year-old veteran stopped countless goal-bound efforts with timely interceptions and was a rock in defence.
He won all the headers he contested for but his communication with Aidil and Farizal needs to be improved.
Azmi Muslim - 6
The Malaysia international contained Safirul Sulaiman and linked-up well with Fitri Omar down the left flank. His over-lapping play was entertaining but did not get enough opportunities to burst forward.
Rezal Zambery - 8
A true midfield lynchpin and the oldest player on the pitch at 33, Rezal was responsible for stopping the LIONSXII attacking movement and won his defenders crucial seconds to get back into position with his antics.
Made his presence felt with early crunching tackles but earned a yellow for a foul on Shahril Ishak.
Hairuddin Omar - 7.5
The man known to the ATM fans as "Captain Marvel" was less than spectacular on the night, having to carry a bigger defensive responsibility and rarely had the chance to string forward attacks.
Nonetheless, Hairuddin provided a calming presence in the middle of the park and controlled the tempo of the game, although he will relish a second chance at destroying the LIONSXII on home soil.
D. Christie Jayaseelan - 6
Reknowned for his speed on and off the ball, Christie seemed too quick for the ball on the artificial turf and his touch let him down when it mattered. Still, the winger gave it his all and ran tirelessly, always chasing any opportunity regardless of how lost a cause it seemed.
Bruno Martelotto - 7
The Argentinian was the heartbeat behind all of ATM's attacking play and distributed the ball well, when not busy expressing his exasperations at his team-mates.
A flair player, Bruno has the ability and vision to wreck havoc but his lack of composure must be sorted.
Fitri Omar (off 90') - 6.5
The Selangor native was a constant thorn in the LIONSXII defence and his ability to play off his team-mates kept the hosts on the back foot for a large portion of the game.
Fitri also carved out good chances but his long-shots rarely threatened.
Marlon James (off 74') - 6.5
The 35-year-old Vincentian was kept quiet for a majority of the match having been marked out of the game, but sprung to life from the half-chance he had. Never needing a second invitation, Marlon grabbed a precious away goal with a classy finish.
Amiridzwan Taj (on 74') - 5
Amiridzwan immediately filled seamlessly into the ATM backline after coming on and made Aidil look a better player.
Venice Elphi (on 90') - N/A
The youngster looked hungry and was as promising and will eventually shine with the quality players surrounding him.