By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Following a goalless first half at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Fazrul Nawaz struck with a cool finish in the 63rd minute to hand the Singaporean outfit the three points, which was enough to send them second in the group with one game in the stage remaining.
After picking up just one point from their opening three games, the LIONSXII got their campaign back underway with last month’s 2-1 win over Perak, and they certainly looked eager to maintain that form from the opening whistle on Wednesday.
Just three minutes in, they carved out their first opening when Hariss Harun spread the ball out left to Gabriel Quak, whose low drive forced Sani Anuar Kamsani into a smart save although the flag had been up for offside anyway.
Seven minutes later, it was Sarawak’s turn to threaten when Muamer Salibasic nipped in and won the ball off Madhu Mohana before blasting one towards goal, only to send it into the sidenetting.
Nonetheless, it was the hosts who eventually took control of proceedings but despite enjoying plenty of possession, they appeared to be lacking the cutting edge in the final third.
Hariss was looking like their brightest spark and he created an opening five minutes after the half-hour mark when he broke free down the right, but his cross was just too close to Sani.
Four minutes later, a long throw by Madhu ricocheted into the path of Baihakki, who reacted well to poke it towards goal but once again, the Sarawak goalkeeper gathered with relative ease.
But two minutes after the break, Sani had to make a more impressive save after Zulfahmi Arifin’s left-wing cross took a wicked deflection and nearly crept in at the near post, until the 30-year-old flew across to push it wide.
The LIONSXII had another chance in the 52nd minute when Shahfiq’s dangerous corner was headed narrowly over by Madhu, before Safuwan Baharudin attempted an audacious 40-yard lob that Sani had to tip over eight minutes later.
But three minutes after the hour mark, the hosts finally found the breakthrough when Baihakki stepped out from the back and played a defence-splitting pass to Fazrul, who coolly slotted into the bottom corner just six minutes after coming on.
With the lead now in their possession, the LIONSXII began to adopt a more conservative approach as they looked to hold on to the three points but that did motivate Kedah to throw more men forward.
They had a half-chance in the 73rd minute when Joseph Kalang Tie found space down the left and whipped in a dangerous cross but, with Azizan Baba lurking, Safuwan bravely stooped low to head clear at the near post.
However, the hosts continued to stand firm at the back but Sarawak had one final chance in injury-time to force the draw when Ronny Harun played a long freekick into the box.
But having done well to out-jump Baihakki, Junior Eldstal could only send a firm header into the arms of Izwan Mahbud, allowing the LIONSXII to hold onto a valuable three points.
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Isa Halim, Faris Ramli (Shahril Ishak 46’), Hariss Harun, Zulfahmi Arifin, Gabriel Quak, Shahfiq Ghani.
Sarawak: Sani Anuar Kamsani, Mafry Balang, Hairol Mokhtar, Ronny Harun, Ramesh Lai, Zamri Morshidi (Ashri Chuchu 77’), Guy Bwele, Junior Eldstal, Joseph Kalang Tie, Muamer Salibasic (Mazwandi Zekeria 83’), Bobby Gonzales.