Pahang 3 LionsXII 2: Visitors wilt under pressure
Matias Conti, R. Gopinathan and Azidan Sarudin scored for the Tok Gajahs as they pulled away from the dreaded relegation zone, while Faris Ramli and Khairul Nizam replied for the visitors.
The result saw Fandi Ahmad’s men still searching for only their second league win, with the LionsXII only two points and two places above the relegation zone following the loss.
Already deprived of long-term injury victim Afiq Yunos, they were dealt another blow before the game when Khairul Amri failed to recover from his groin injury to make the matchday squad.
The absence of Amri saw Fandi deploy a front two of Sahil Suhaimi and Khairul Nizam, while Faritz Hameed made his first LionsXII appearance in nine months at right-back.
Pahang put the Lions under pressure from the first whistle as they took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Conti and Hafiz Kamal exploited the gaps in defence to take shots at goal in the first 10 minutes, but Izwan produced superb stops to deny them.
The LionsXII took the lead against the run of play at the quarter-hour when a one-two combination saw Sahil release Faris on the right side of the box to fire past the onrushing Khairul Azhan and into the right bottom corner of the net.
Zesh Rehman had the ball at the back of the net for the hosts on 30 minutes only for it to be disallowed due to offside, but they would find their way back into the game six minutes later.
A cross from Azidan on the right was met by Conti who timed his run to reach the ball ahead of Madhu Mohana to head home the equaliser.
Pahang continued to pile on the pressure after the break, with Izwan called upon again to pull off a one-handed save to deny Nor Azam Azih from 30 yards in the 52nd minute.
The intense pressure got the better of the Singapore goalkeeper as his punched clearance only went as far as Zesh who was lurking on the edge of the box, but the Pakistan international lobbed the ball just over an open goal.
There was no denying Pahang the lead five minutes after the hour when Dickson Nwakaeme found Gopinathan on the left, and the latter capitalised on the time and space afforded to fire home inside the six-yard area.
Nizam had an opportunity to level proceedings shortly after but his diving header drifted wide after Gabriel Quak had floated in a cross from the right.
The Lions’ weakness in defending set plays came back to haunt them once more when Azidan bundled home the ball on the line after Conti’s header off a free kick hit Izwan’s body and bounced towards him.
Nizam then opened his account for the season with virtually the last kick of the game in injury time.
A threaded through ball from Christopher van Huizen down the middle released the powerful forward, allowing him to slot the ball into the back of the net and reduce the deficit before the final whistle.