LionsXII out of FA Cup after shock home loss
The LionsXII fell to a shock home loss against Pahang FA on Saturday night as they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup.
Having already beaten the hosts in the first game of the league campaign, the Elephants repeated the trick with a 2-1 triumph at the LionsXII’s Jalan Besar fortress.
Azidan Sarudin starred as Pahang netted two goals in a four-minute flurry in the second half, condemning the LionsXII to a second-round exit despite a late own goal giving them hope.
Head coach Fandi Ahmad made one change from the team that started against Johor Darul Takzim on Tuesday, with Nazrul Nazari coming in for Sufian Anuar. Khairul Amri was tasked to lead the line, with Hafiz Sujad pushed up behind him.
Nazrul got entangled in a battle with left-back Saiful Nizam early on, with the latter clattering into him in the eighth minute to concede a free-kick. The LionsXII winger then appeared to have been on the end of a stray elbow from his direct opponent seven minutes later, which got the crowd riled up despite the referee not blowing for a foul.
Two minutes before, Zulfahmi Arifin had struck a 25-yard grounder straight into the arms of a grateful Khairul Azhan but it was the visitors who nearly went ahead.
A neat through ball left Azamuddin Akil with only Izwan Mahbud to beat, but the goalkeeper did brilliantly to stick out a leg. The ball was deflected to Matias Conti, but Izwan showed great reactions to get up and parry the striker’s header behind.
The LionsXII were struggling to genuinely threaten and had Izwan to thank again just after the half-hour mark. Azamuddin sneaked in from the right after breaking the offside trap with ease, but was denied by a fine block from the custodian.
On 45 minutes, Fandi’s charges put together their finest move and it nearly resulted in them going ahead.
Zulfahmi released Faritz Hameed down the right, who dinked the ball over a covering defender before crossing for Amri. Dropping behind his marker to find space, the striker took his half-volley first time on the turn but saw it bounce off the post.
Six minutes into the second half, the raucous home crowd was silenced. After a needless free-kick was conceded on the edge of the box, Hafiz Kamal stepped up to belt the ball into the bottom corner past Izwan.
Things very quickly got worse for the LionsXII. Cutting in from the right, Conti skipped past two players before laying off the ball for Azidan, who lashed it low past Izwan to give Pahang a shock two-goal lead.
Fandi took immediate action by pushing Safuwan upfront and bringing on Sufian Anuar, with the latter spurning a gilt-edged chance moments after coming on. Found by Hafiz’s low cross from the left, Sufian scooped his shot over the bar to the crowd’s groans of agony.
Sufian had another bite at the cherry five minutes later, but saw his header tipped over brilliantly by a back-pedaling Khairul. The goalkeeper was then bailed out by a top-notch Damion Stewart block on Safuwan’s goal-bound header in the 75th minute.
Stewart was proving to be indomitable at the back alongside partner Zesh Rehman, but they were finally undone through no fault of their own five minutes from time.
Safuwan’s 30-yard free-kick skidded off the surface and bounced off the post, before hitting the sprawled Khairul and rolling back over the line. The LionsXII had been thrown a life-line.
Four additional minutes were given as the crowd willed the LionsXII on for an equaliser, but there was none to be found as Amri planted a free header wide in the dying seconds, with the final whistle signaling his team’s exit moments later.