The LionsXII have won all of their home games this Malaysian Super League (MSL) season bar one, but their 4-0 success over Felda United on Tuesday night was the most crucial of the lot.
Roared on by a capacity crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium, it was perhaps fitting that the LionsXII sealed the MSL title on a ground that they have remained unbeaten on in 2013.
V. Sundramoorthy’s men might have stumbled to a 1-1 draw against Johor Darul Takzim a week ago, but there was no denying them the victory here as an inspired performance from skipper Shahril Ishak saw them cruise.
Needing nothing less than three points to capture a crown last won in 1994, the LionsXII poured forwards once the whistle sounded for kickoff.
An early chance came for Faris Ramli in the 10th minute when his looping header had to be tipped over by Felda goalkeeper Rozaimie Rohim, before he crossed for Safuwan Baharudin to glance a header wide one minute later.
The stadium erupted when Fazrul Nawaz headed Hariss Harun’s shot into the bottom corner, but he was flagged for offside even though replays showed that he was level.
Long balls and high crosses were constantly floated into the visitors’ box, but the likes of Safuwan and Shakir Hamzah failed to capitalise as Felda struggled to cope.
Amar Rohidan hit a 30-yard drive wide and Leonel St. Preux smacked one into Izwan Mahbud’s hands from a similar distance, but those were rare openings for Felda in the first half.
Rozaimie then did superbly to make the sliding challenge after Fazrul had released Nazrul Nazari with a lovely ball, before the former volleyed a half-cleared cross over from eight yards as half-time neared to maintain the deadlock at the break.
The home support did not need to wait long for the opener after the restart though.
Just two minutes in, Shahril’s teasing freekick from the right was turned into his own net by Azrul Ahmad to put the LionsXII into the lead.
It was to get even better near the hour mark. Faris crossed low from the left and with Azrul Azmi air-kicking his clearance, the ball fell to an unmarked Shahril at the far post. The Singapore captain gladly accepted the gift, slamming home to make it 2-0 in the 58th minute.
The lead was made unassailable a mere three minutes later when Fazrul pounced on Shahril’s shot across goal to easily tap into an unguarded net for 3-0.
There was no way back by then for the relegation-threatened visitors, who looked shell-shocked at the stirring second-half response from the LionsXII.
Izwan even had time to go up and take a 30-yard freekick that was deflected behind for a corner, as substitute Shahfiq Ghani made it 4-0 in the 83rd minute.
Shahril bagged his third assist of the night when a slide-rule pass from deep sent Shahfiq away, and the striker made no mistake with a cool finish past Rozaimie.
Hafiz Sujad saw a blistering effort palmed away before Safuwan nearly joined in the fun, bending his shot a whisker past the post after Shahril had laid the ball back for the defender.
The sea of red in the stands went wild when the whistle went at the end of three injury-time minutes, as the LionsXII celebrated their first MSL title in front of the adoring crowd and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
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