By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Following a goalless first half at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Hariss Harun opened the scoring for the hosts with a glancing header in the 61st minute, but Perak hit back just five minutes later when Noor Hazrul Mustafa scored with a ferocious freekick.
But five minutes from time, Safuwan Baharudin broke free inside the area and scored with a cool finish to hand his side their first win of the campaign.
However, the visitors are likely to feel aggrieved as they appeared to have scored a second goal just minutes before their opponents went 2-1 up, but Paulo Rangel’s header was adjudged to have not crossed the line although replays showed otherwise.
Having picked up just one point from their opening three group games, the LIONSXII entered the game knowing nothing less than a win would spell the end of their title chances
Although they were without talismanic captain Shahril Ishak, who was ruled out for the rest of the season earlier this week, they showed good initiative from the opening whistle but it was the visitors who created the better chances early on.
Six minutes in. S. Chanturu skipped past three challenges on the edge of the area before drilling in a shot on his left that Izwan Mahbud did well to tip onto his post and back out.
Chanturu caused more problems in the 18th minute when he broke free down the right before cutting the ball back to the edge of the area for Shahrulnizam Mustapa, only for his blistering shot to be well blocked by Baihakki Khaizan.
Despite enjoying more possession, the hosts were restricted to crosses and set-pieces that did little to trouble the opposition defence and their first real chance came in the 41st minute; Faris Ramli playing a looping ball into the box to find Safuwan, who could only send his header over.
Four minutes after the break, the LIONSXII managed to threaten again when Hariss met a freekick and nodded a firm effort towards goal, but Farizal Marlias produced an awkward-looking save to push it to safety.
Looking increasingly dangerous in attack, the hosts started to play with more belief and had another chance in the 59th minute when Gabriel Quak skipped past his man before chipping a cross but Fazrul was unable to connect cleanly from four yards out, allowing Farizal to smother the danger.
Straight up the other end, Perak then had an excellent chance to go ahead when Abdul Hadi Yahya threaded a lovely ball to pick out Rangel, and his firm shot looked destined for the bottom corner until Izwan pulled off a fine save to palm it wide.
And that intervention proved vital a minute later when the hosts finally found the breakthrough after substitute Zulfahmi Arifin played a lovely cross to find the unmarked Hariss, who made no mistake in sending a glancing header into the bottom corner.
Hariss then almost turned provider four minutes after the hour mark when he went on a determined run and forced his way past Rafael before picking out Faris, but the winger completely miscued his shot and the chance went begging.
Two minutes later, Perak equalised after they were awarded a freekick 30 yards out from goal; Noor Hazrul stepping up and drilling a ferocious shot that Izwan could not keep out despite his best efforts.
The game’s controversial moment then came in the 79th minute when Shahrulnizam whipped in a freekick that was firmly headed towards goal by Rangel. Although Izwan managed to get a hand to it, it appeared to bounce over the line but referee Nafeez Wahab and his linesman were both unmoved and waved play on.
Five minutes from time, the LIONSXII grabbed the winner after Izwan’s clearance bounced over the opposition defence and Safuwan was quickest to race onto it, nodding it into his path before expertly sending a lob over Farizal and into the back of the net.
There was still time for one final Perak chance right at the death when substitute Asyraf Sahizah climbed at the back post to meet a left-wing cross, but he could only watch on in despair as his header sailed inches wide of the top corner, allowing the hosts to hang on for a much-needed three points.
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Hameed, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Isa Halim, Hariss Harun, Faris Ramli (Nazrul Nazari 66’), Aqhari Abdullah (Zulfahmi Arifin 46’), Gabriel Quak, Fazrul Nawaz (Khairul Nizam 74’).
Perak: Farizal Marlias, Syazwan Roslan, Shahrom Kalam, Rafael, Noor Hazrul Mustafa, S. Chanturu (Asyraf Sahizah 68’), M. Sivakumar (Norhakim Isa 68’), Nasir Basharuddin, Shahrulnizam Mustapa, Abdul Hadi Yahya, Paulo Rangel.
Image courtesy of FAS (Shirly Hamra)