Negeri Sembilan 0
The LionsXII are in a curious position of lacking a reliable scorer. Yet, they have clawed their way to the top of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) standings despite that glaring deficiency.
Sitting on the top of the perch for the first time this season, V. Sundramoorthy's men laboured to a 1-0 win last night over Negeri Sembilan, who occupy bottom spot in the 12-team table.
While that gave the hosts their fifth consecutive win at the Jalan Besar Stadium, it was also their fourth victory by such a slim scoreline this season. The LionsXII have scored just 11 goals in 10 games, although they boast the best defensive record, conceding just five.
After a slew of misses, captain Shahril Ishak secured all three points when he timed his run perfectly to head home right-winger Nazrul Nazari's cross in the 79th minute, finally bringing some cheer to the 6,518-strong crowd.
It was his first goal since the 1-0 win over ATM on the campaign's opening day on Jan 9.
Sundram defended his team's finishing, saying: "A 1-0 win is better than nothing.
"We have difficulty scoring and we need to capitalise on our chances, but we are still scoring. This is still a very young team. Most people didn't give them a chance. But I'm giving these boys a shot and we'll see how far we can go."
Negeri Sembilan's Portuguese coach Divaldo Alves, on the other hand, scoffed at the LionsXII's attacking strategy and preferred to trumpet how his team nearly caused a shock result.
He said: "Almost 80 per cent of the LionsXII's goals come from set-pieces and crosses. I knew that and our tactics focused on closing them down early.
"That limited them to trying long shots."
Indeed, in the rare moments when the LionsXII managed to split the Negeri defence open, they were let down by some woeful finishing.
There was a collective groan in the stands when Fazrul Nawaz wasted a glorious chance in the 11th minute, as he shot straight at goalkeeper Hamsani Ahmad after he raced clean through.
"It was a frustrating game," Fazrul conceded. "We haven't played for three weeks and signs of rustiness were there."
But just when they needed a result, skipper Shahril ended his drought as he bravely stuck his head in when goalkeeper Hamsani rushed out to punch the ball.
A relieved Shahril said: "It felt good to score again, especially when it gave us the win that took us to the top. At least, we know we are top of the table for the next two weeks.
"We want to stay there and that's the thing that keeps us going."