LAST November, Shahdan Sulaiman's mangled right ankle became one of the most gruesome images of the Asean Football Championship.
An accidental collision with team-mate Khairul Amri left the attacking midfielder crumpled in agony on the pitch of the National Stadium, fearing that his career had come to an abrupt end.
On Saturday, however, the 27-year-old could finally close the chapter on that horrific injury, as he wheeled away in delight after netting the final goal in the LionsXII's 3-1 win over ATM in the Malaysian Super League (MSL).
Mobbed by his team-mates while the crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium roared with joy, it could not be sweeter for Shahdan, who will be eager to dish out similar damage tonight when the LionsXII face the same opposition at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi, Seremban.
"It was pure joy," said Shahdan about his goal, a left-footed finish into the bottom-right corner after a flick on from Safuwan Baharudin.
"Playing was already good enough, but scoring made it a dream comeback and I found it hard to believe it."
Shahdan fractured his fibula and dislocated his ankle in that dreadful collision while playing for Singapore against Myanmar, and he underwent surgery to insert eight screws into his leg.
After six months of rehabilitation, he finally made his first appearance of the season, coming on as a substitute in the final minutes of the LionsXII's 2-1 MSL win over Sime Darby in May.
Having made just his second appearance of the season, Shahdan is setting his sights on the next challenge: "My immediate target now is to nail down a spot in the first XI.
"The players in midfield are doing really well, so it is not going to be easy to just walk into the side. But it's best for the team to have such an intense battle for starting spots."
Coach Fandi Ahmad is pleased to have the midfielder back, as he expressed his delight at the current depth of his squad.
"Shahdan is a player who can dictate the pace of a game and he is a real asset to a team," he said.
"I am happy for him that he has come back and scored a goal but he has to work even harder.
"We have a strong midfield with Safuwan, Izzdin (Shafiq) and Firdaus (Kasman), but this battle for places in midfield bodes well for the team.
"Any coach would love to have a headache like this, to choose from the selection I have."
With the LionsXII targeting their fourth successive MSL victory and fifth on the trot in all competitions, Fandi has told his players to focus as they once again have to re-adjust to a new playing time.
Kick-off for tonight will be at 10pm, owing to the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The revised timing is a departure from the usual timing of 8.45pm for their away games.
"We need to adjust," said Fandi.
"The boys have to be mentally prepared. It is not easy to change the routine but we will manage and hopefully return with three points."
ATM FA v LionsXII
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