By Nigel Chin
LionsXII 4-1 Pahang FA
(Safuwan Baharudin 30’ Sufian Anuar 80’, 90, 90’; Damion Stewart 8’)
Singapore, 15 April 2014: The LionsXII came up tops against Pahang FA on Tuesday evening, defeating the league leaders 4-1 to show remarkable improvements from their last game.
Sufian Anuar proved to be the difference in front of 6,248 fans as he helped himself to an important hat-trick in the last ten minutes of the game after coming on for the injured Khairul Nizam in the 57th minute.
Things were not all rosy though, especially in the first twenty minutes of the game.
What seemed like an innocuous free-kick on the left conceded by Madhu Mohana proved to be just the opposite after Azidan Sarudin put in a great ball for Damion Stewart to open the scoring after just eight minutes.
Pahang could have had a second in the 21st minute after burly striker Dickson Nwakaeme embarked on a run, holding off challenges from a couple of defenders but his shot was tipped wide by LionsXII’s number 1 Izwan Mahbud. Pahang’s Pakistani defender then headed towards goal unmarked from the following corner which was then cleared by Safuwan Baharudin just a yard in front of the goal-line.
That brought a tactical change from Fandi, who moved Safuwan into midfield alongside Aqhari Abdullah, who had earlier replace the injured Raihan Rahman, while shifting Faritz back into his more accustomed right back role. The move paid off, as the LionsXII started to take hold of possession more.
The equalizer then came on the half-hour mark after a corner from Hafiz Sujad was pushed away by Pahang goalkeeper Khairul Azhan, but it fell nicely for Captain Safuwan Baharudin to lash the ball into goal.
Khairul Amri could have put the Lions in front four minutes before half time but his left foot shot was met by name-sake Khairul Azhan at the near post.
Then came the crucial change in the 58th minute, when Nizam landed awkwardly and had to be replaced by Sufian. The super sub had a golden opportunity to make an immediate impact after Faris Ramli found him, but he somehow managed to fire over despite being unmarked in the box.
Sufian though, would go on to redeem himself.
A flowing build up in the 80th minute put the LionsXII ahead after Amri’s meek effort was diverted into goal past the hapless Khairul Azhan by Sufian.
While the first goal can be attributed to luck, the second goal was anything but that. A counter attack in injury time saw Amri race down the left to produce a pin-point low cross for Sufian, who bundled home the rebound after his first shot was foiled by the Pahang goalkeeper.
It was a vital goal as Pahang twice went close with efforts from Nwakaeme and Azidan just minutes before. The former was denied by Izwan once again, while the latter’s effort went just wide.
Sufian then made sure of the points late in the injury time, tapping in a rebound from Amri’s attempt to bring home the match ball.
Fandi: Job well done
LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad was a visibly happy man at the post-match press conference, and understandably so.
He expressed delight at hat-trick hero Sufian’s efforts tonight. “He worked very hard. Today, he gave us his all,” he said.
While he singled out Sufian’s performance, he also had praise for the whole team.
“The boys wanted the win badly today,” he said. “(It was) fantastic, a good comeback. We had the better luck today, because we created it. We created more chances than them,” assessed the Singapore legend.
On the other hand, his counterpart felt that his team simply slacked off after scoring the first goal.
Malaysia legend, Zainal Abidin explained: “I think we started well, and we scored the first goal. But after that, everybody relaxed, (they were) undisciplined, and took things for granted.”
“It was the worst performance ever,” lamented the Pahang FA head coach
The LionsXII will travel to Shah Alam Stadium to take on Selangor FA next on Saturday, April 19th, at 8:45pm.