But while Thailand’s Chonburi FC ended their Tuesday visit on the winning side, the Courts Young Lions were left with nothing other than that early goal as they finished on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline on Sunday evening.
Jonathan Toto gave the visitors a dream start when he scored off a Benjamin Lee cutback, but Firdaus Idros levelled matters on the quarter-hour mark with an opportunistic run following good work from Qiu Li and Frederic Mendy.
Mendy then completed the turnaround with a second-half double that lifted the Protectors into second spot, giving them the perfect tonic ahead of a challenging fortnight on both domestic and continental fronts.
Home pulled a big surprise when Japanese defender Kenji Arai was named in the starting lineup, having put off surgery for a nagging knee ligament problem to help an ailing rearguard.
Arai was fielded at leftback to contain the threat offered by the visitors’ Lee, but even with Masrezwan Masturi deployed in a supplementary wingback role, the hosts still found themselves trailing early on.
Feeling the momentum carrying over from their recent good run, the Young Lions attacked down the right, Lee doing the sensible thing with a sharp cutback that approached the edge of the penalty area.
Three Home defenders missed the ball, but not Toto, who swept in from the middle of the park to make firm contact and steer past Lionel Lewis.
That had the Young Lions fans singing for their boys in blue and white, but Home were stung into action quickly, Qiu pulling a ball from the left ten minutes in that Firdaus just failed to meet.
Qiu was having a particularly inspired game after disappointing against Chonburi in midweek, although he was by no means the only player who turned it on for the men in red.
Arai looked a lot more imposing at the back after conceding the early goal, while Nor Azli Yusoff was a willing man at rightback, doing his best to thwart former Protectors darling Sherif El-Masri whenever the two crossed paths.
All eyes were on the shaven-headed Qiu, though, and he responded by playing the architect’s role for the Protectors’ equaliser on 15 minutes.
A ball aimed for Mendy in the box was lofted in from the left, and while the Frenchman was unable to get a direct header on goal due to the presence of a marker, Firdaus was well-placed to storm in for a thumping finish.
From then on, the hosts gradually began to show signs of controlling the game, although Shi Jiayi should have done better with his headed attempt off John Wilkinson’s free kick delivery on 19 minutes.
Wilkinson came close to getting onto the scoresheet himself on the half-hour mark when another smart lobbed play by Qiu found him around the edge of the area, but his calmly-played soft shot smacked into the left upright with Syazwan Buhari stranded.
Despite these promising moments in attack and a more composed look at the back, Lee Lim Saeng seemed unhappy at various developments as he barked various instructions from the technical area.
The Korean also made two substitutions relatively early on, taking an injured Firdaus off for Shotaro Ihata on 35 minutes and sending Indra Sahdan Daud on for Wilkinson at the break.
If those moves were intended to add more bite up front, they worked, for the Young Lions defence, so resolute in numbers in the first half, crumbled badly for much of the second period.
Qiu was dispossessed towards the left by the Young Lions’ Lee, but Franklin Anzite came in to take the ball back and cross for Mendy, who met the ball at the far post to put Home 2-1 up.
The visitors were beginning to struggle, and Faritz Abdul Hameed in particular was being hung out to dry by a Home attack that seemed to identify him as the weak spot to exploit.
The worst thing was that Robin Chitrakar had no credible replacement for the 22-year-old, so he had no choice but to see his charges brave wave after wave of attacks from the Protectors.
Indra had a penalty claim dismissed just before the hour mark, before teeing up a shot on 72 minutes that Faritz barely managed to keep out on the line.
It was eventually left to Mendy to settle the game once again, when he rose well and steered a long lob from Shi beyond a marooned Syazwan’s reach with twelve minutes to go.
The Protectors could have had even more goals to delight their fans, had they not busied themselves with the comparatively less exhausting cat-and-mouse game they were playing with the Young Lions defence.
Qiu did get a shot on goal in injury time after being fed by Ihata, but the 30-year-old directed it straight at Syazwan, much to the goalkeeper’s relief.
But that was nothing compared to the relief felt by the Protectors, as they managed yet another turnaround win to stay in the title hunt and steel their nerves for two key games that could decide how busy they will be for the second half of the season.
Lee: Three points most important
Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng was relieved to see his side pick up three precious points after beating the Courts Young Lions 3-1 on Sunday evening.
The result lifted the Protectors up to second spot, five points behind Bruneian side DPMM FC, as Malaysia’s Harimau Muda were pegged back by Tampines Rovers in a concurrent fixture.
“We cannot afford to lose points, because we want to catch up with the Brunei team,” said Lee.
“Fortunately, we got our three points, and I thank my players for that. I know they are very tired after so many games, we conceded first, but we caught up and got the win.
“The three points are the most important thing now. If we play very well and then fail to get the three points, there is no point in that, but of course we want to play very well and win.
“We are Home United, and we should show more good performances like this one. It’s up to me to work hard with the players so that we can get people to see Home United are a good side.”
Lee was particularly grateful to have Japanese defender Kenji Arai back on the field again, after the 33-year-old opted to postpone his surgery appointment for a knee ligament problem.
“Kenji suddenly came to me and said he won’t get his operation done so quickly,” he revealed.
“I know he has a lot of pain in his knee, even though he tells me he has no pain. He wants to play, so I let him play, but I don’t want to push him if he can still feel that big pain.
“We gave away big presents to Chonburi when Kenji didn’t play, but he’s decided he wants to help the team. He was supposed to have his operation this week, so now he is trying to find a new date.”
Young Lions coach Robin Chitrakar was upset in defeat, even as he admitted his charges were outplayed by Home.
“To come here and take a lead, definitely it’s good, but it’s not easy to hang on to it,” he said.
“We played against a quality side, definitely. We wanted to press even further after taking the lead, but we were caught by surprise and never settled down after that.
“I can’t say whether 3-1 was a fair margin or not, but for me, we don’t like losing, and that’s the most important thing. When we come here, we want to collect points, definitely; otherwise we will be complacent about losing, which for me is not right.”
Article taken from sleague.com, written by Tam Cheong Yan
CYL Line up:
Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Sirina Camara, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Shamil Sharif (Faris Ramli 63″), Aqhari Abdullah, Benjamin Lee, Neil Vanu (Fazli Ayob 55″), Sherif El-Masri, Jonathan Toto (Syafiq Zainal 79″)