Forward thinking is Fandi Ahmad's emphasis for LionsXII

The LionsXII training at ITE Central yesterday before their match against Sime Darby FC at Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow. Coach Fandi Ahmad is placing increased importance on honing his strikers' skills and their anticipation level as he wants them to
The LionsXII training at ITE Central yesterday before their match against Sime Darby FC at Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow. Coach Fandi Ahmad is placing increased importance on honing his strikers' skills and their anticipation level as he wants them to increase their success rate.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
With the Malaysian Super League (MSL) now at the halfway stage, Fandi Ahmad's report card for his LionsXII side reads "good but there is room for improvement". -- NP FILE PHOTO: GARY GOH
With the Malaysian Super League (MSL) now at the halfway stage, Fandi Ahmad's report card for his LionsXII side reads "good but there is room for improvement". -- NP FILE PHOTO: GARY GOH

Safuwan, Amri and Izwan the core, but strikers must hone anticipation

With the Malaysian Super League (MSL) now at the halfway stage, Fandi Ahmad's report card for his LionsXII side reads "good but there is room for improvement".

After winning the title last year on the strength of an entire season unbeaten at Jalan Besar Stadium, results this year have been patchy, with the team unable to string more than two victories together.

The LionsXII are fourth in the 12-team table on 18 points, four points behind leaders Pahang.

Coached by V. Sundramoorthy last season, the LionsXII were a pragmatic counter-attacking side but Fandi is trying to entertain with his gung-ho, all-guns-blazing style of attacking football.

The 51-year-old explained: "It takes time to get the boys to play a style of football that is more open and free-flowing than before but still, the transition period has taken longer than we would have liked, thus the inconsistent results.

"The good thing is that the boys know their roles better now, and are creating chances in front of goal.

"We just need to start converting these chances and the better results will come, starting this week hopefully."

While Khairul Amri is the joint-second leading scorer in MSL with five goals so far, none of the other forwards - Shahfiq Ghani, Sufian Anuar and Khairul Nizam have scored in the league this year.

Fandi has a Plan B but it is an open secret that when the going gets tough, the former national captain will push centre-back Safuwan Baharudin up front to find the net.

The tactic has paid off, with the 22-year-old scoring three times, which led to Fandi admitting: "The whole of Malaysia already knows."

But such is the effectiveness of Safuwan up front that Fandi said: "Knowing about the tactic is one thing, but having to deal with another man up front in the game is another matter altogether so it will always be a strength.

"Pushing Safuwan up will always be a strength for us as he can be a handful for opposing defenders."

Safuwan's versatility is also the reason why he is one of three standout players in Fandi's eyes so far. Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and striker Amri are the other two who have impressed the coach.

"These players have been the core of our team, scoring goals and making sure we don't concede them," he said.

"Above that, they lead the players by example and that's what I'm looking for from the rest of the squad."

However, with his other forwards firing blanks, Fandi feels that the solution is to keep polishing the forwards' finishing.

He said: "I don't just work with them on the training ground. I'm always talking to them about what they should do in different situations.

"I tell them every day to always anticipate how the ball will land, and to not panic because if you panic, you lose the ball and the chance to score."

For now, Fandi is seeeking three points against visiting Sime Darby FC to mark a good start to the second half of the season and to extend the team's four-game unbeaten run.

He intoned: "Every point is crucial now, and with two home games in succession (against Sime Darby and Pahang), this is our chance to get our season back on track."

terong@sph.com.sg