SINGAPORE - They gave as good as they got, but the Young Lions fell short as they lost 2-1 to Home United at the Bishan Stadium on Saturday (April 6).
Coach Fandi Ahmad said he was satisfied by another gallant display by his youngsters against a side tipped to challenge for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title, and felt they deserved at least a point.
"I'm happy with the commitment, discipline, and how the boys tried very hard till the end," he said. "Home settled down and did very well to control the game with their experienced players, but both sides had chances and we should not have lost."
Home skipper Izzdin Shafiq put his side in the front after just six minutes with a fine curling effort from outside the box.
But the strike was cancelled out by Young Lions captain Joshua Pereira, who rose at the back post to send a thumping header beyond goalkeeper Nazri Sabri.
Home restored their lead five minutes before half-time, however, when Australian striker Ollie Puflett's cutback found Adam Swandi, who scored from close range.
Fandi said he felt Puflett was offside: "Our defender needed to follow (Puflett) even though he was offside. Sometimes our boys make the mistake of waiting for the linesman to flag or referee to blow, so it's very frustrating."
Where previous Young Lions sides might have crumbled from conceding a morale-sapping goal just before the break, Fandi's charges kept plugging away.
They went close twice late in the game. First, left wingback Nur Luqman dribbled past two defenders only to fire into the side netting. Then, forward Haiqal Pashia saw his shot from distance go inches wide, with Nazri stranded.
Home could have added a bit of gloss to their win, but Aqhari Abdullah saw his shot come off the upright after he was played through on goal by South Korean teammate Song Ui-Yong.
Fandi said the challenge for him and his coaching team was to keep his charges' level of performance up. He added: "We have told (the players) that whether the result comes or not, does not matter, and the main thing is to maintain the playing style, standard and intensity.
"We want to see it game-in, game-out, and we have been consistent since (last month's AFC Under-23 Championships qualifiers where Singapore finished second in a group comprising North Korea, Hong Kong and Mongolia).
"But we are still making one or two little mistakes and they cannot happen all the time, because some teams will punish you."
For Home, the win was their third in seven days. They had beaten Warriors FC 3-0 in the SPL last Saturday and then Laotian domestic champions Lao Toyota 1-0 in the AFC Cup on Tuesday.
Coach Saswadimata Dasuki said: "We had a difficult time earlier in the season (with consecutive heavy losses to Tampines Rovers in the SPL and Philippine side Kaya FC in the AFC Cup) but the team kept believing."
In Saturday's other game, two late goals helped Albirex Niigata beat Balestier Khalsa 2-1 at the Jurong East Stadium, for the defending champions' first win of the season after four games.