By Abhishek Mehrotra
LIONSXII had lost 1-0 to the same side in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, and most were expecting a similarly tough encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
However, three goals within the opening half hour from Safuwan Baharudin, Shaiful Esah and Sevki Sha'Ban laid that notion to rest, and striker Agu Casmir got his first goals of the season in the second-half to round off the scoring.
Sundram hailed his players at the post-match press conference, saying: "The boys were great today [Tuesday], magnificent. It was a five-star performance. It was the best game of the season.
"I never expected to win by five goals. But that's football - sometimes the unexpected happens.
"This team [LIONSXII's opponents PKNS] hadn't lost away - this is their first defeat on the road.
"We were obviously disappointed coming back from Kuala Lumpur after the defeat and the boys knew the importance of this match."
Four of the home side's goals came from set-pieces, for which Sundram gave credit to deadball specialists Shahdan Sulaiman and Shaiful Esah. Shahdan grabbed two assists while returning left-back Shaiful got a goal and one assist against a shoddy PKNS defence.
"It was about the delivery from Shahdan and Shaiful - that's the most important factor. Players run into position, but if the delivery wasn't up to the mark we couldn't have scored - so we must give credit to Shaiful and Shahdan for the deliveries," said the 46-year-old.
"Shaiful needs time to get back to his old self. Some more games and he'll perform even better."
Agu was the other standout performer for the LIONSXII on Tuesday and Sundram reiterated his faith in the striker, who has come in for a lot of criticism since the start of the season.
"We always had faith in him," remarked the coach.
"He's a talented player, he's coming good now. We've got another nine games [to the end of the season], so it's the right time for him to score and put us up high in the table."
However, Sundram warned that Agu would have competition soon, and must keep performing to stay in the starting eleven.
"Players like Sufian [Anuar], [Khairul] Nizam are getting fit and Agu must score to keep his place," he said.
When asked how his side had managed to score five against a defence that had proven so difficult to break down four days ago, Sundram explained: "It was a heavy pitch in KL [due to the rain], and we missed some players like Juma'at Jantan. He was great tonight [Tuesday], bringing all his experience into play. Shaiful started the game and we had Hariss [Harun] and Isa [Halim] fit in midfield.
"So we had strength in all the departments. In KL we had to play some individuals out of position because of injuries and fatigue.
"[On Tuesday our aim was to] turn it around, get three points, sit on top and let Kelantan worry about us. We should play to win and try to put pressure on Kelantan and Terengganu. Tell them that they have to chase us."
LIONSXII now have a long break before a crunch top of the table encounter with defending champions and second placed Kelantan, who trail by five points, but have played three games less.
Looking forward to the clash, Sundram said: "After today [Tuesday], some players are feeling the injuries. We have three weeks off now, so I hope I'll get all 29 players fit for the next game.
"It's nice that we're scoring all over the pitch. We must keep it going and try to win more games," he continued before concluding with an acknowledment of the role the 7139-strong crowd played at the Jalan Besar.
"The fans were so great - their support was tremendous today [Tuesday]."
PKNS coach Haji Abdul Rahman admitted his side were outplayed on the night, but said part of the reason was the artificial pitch - something none of his players had experienced before.
"This is the first time we played on artificial turf. The movement is different, the speed is different, the dribbling and running with the ball is different," he said.
"I have four fast players, but they couldn't do much today [Tuesday]. On turf, you cannot run at full-speed, it must be controlled speed. You can see how Singapore [LIONSXII] adjust. When they go fast, they go at 80 percent, whereas so many of our players lost their balance in the first 15 minutes. Every time they stopped suddenly, they fell. Every time they turned, they fell. Maybe if we play more matches on this turf, we can perform better."
Even though the atmosphere in Malaysian grounds is far more intimidating, Abdul Rahman felt the proximity of the crowd to the pitch at Jalan Besar made a difference.
"Even though we've played in the presence of big crowds in Malaysia - in Kelantan, Terengganu and Selangor - but here the crowd is nearer to the pitch. The music, the cheering [all make for a very different atmosphere]," he revealed.
Even though he was bothered by the lopsided scoreline, the coach seemed satisfied in having taking three points from LIONSXII in two games.
"I'm not happy with the score, but I'm happy because we got three points out of six. Singapore [LIONSXII] may have got five goals, but they also got three points and we also got three points. The satisfaction is there.
Rahman admitted his lone striker was starved of chances by the home defence.
"Our main striker Nicoise [Mickael Dawood - who scored the winner on Saturday] was not even getting shots on goal except for free-kicks," he said.
"I think LIONSXII, Kelantan and Teregganu [the top three teams in the league] are at the same level. That's not our level. We play more defensively. Today [Tuesday] also we played with only one striker."
Despite the mauling, the coach finished off on an upbeat note.
"We've got another 12 games to go. We still have to get points from elsewhere."
PKNS will be away to Johor FC in their next league encounter on May 8.