|By Teng Kiat
A goal each from Negeri Sembilan and the LionsXII within five minutes saw both teams battle to a 1-1 draw in the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium on Saturday night, with the former reduced to ten men in the last quarter of the game.
The home side thrust new striker Fabio Leandro Barbosa into their starting line-up, and the Brazilian set about harrying the LionsXII’s defence from the first whistle.
Winless in all five previous home games this season, they went close to taking the lead in the 15th minute. Taking down a high ball, Fabio skipped away from stand-in centreback Hariss Harun in the box and blasted the ball past Izwan Mahbud and off the woodwork.
The former Samut Songkhram FC striker got his debut goal just a minute later. Picking up the ball after Isa Halim was dispossessed, Fabio strode forward and unleashed a 25-yard grounder between Hariss’s legs and into the corner of the unsighted Izwan’s goal.
The LionsXII took all of four minutes to respond. Left-back Hafiz Sujad whipped in a low cross that evaded Shahril Ishak, but fell to Fazrul Nawaz eight yards from goal. With his back to goal, the striker neatly controlled the ball before spinning around to slam home the equalizer.
The game was flowing from end to end, with Izwan doing well to tip over a long-range effort from Nazrin Nawi on the half hour. The visitors then hit the woodwork themselves in the 43rd minute, Shahril’s effort from a tight angle deflected onto the post by Shahurain Samah’s outstretched leg.
The second half proved to be a much scrappier affair, with both sides struggling to threaten the other’s goal, thanks in part to good defending from Safuwan Baharudin and William Modibo for the LionsXII and Negeri respectively.
Negeri then went down to 10 men in the 72nd minute when defender Abdul Ghani was deservedly dismissed for a shocking two-footed lunge on Nazrul Nazari.
That should have been the cue for the visitors to go for all three points, but the Deers resolutely held on against the league leaders, who were searching for a fourth consecutive win.
Safuwan was sent upfront to join in the LionsXII’s attack as they sought a winner late on to no avail.