By Kenneth Tan
Pahang FA 1-2 LionsXII
(Dickson Nwakaeme 13’) (Sufian Anuar 52’, Madhu Mohana 84’)
KUANTAN, 29 August 2014: It was a memorable night for the LionsXII as they came from behind to beat Pahang FA 2-1 in a Malaysia Cup Group A clash on Friday evening at the Darul Makmur Stadium.
Trailing from Dickson Nwakaeme’s early goal, Fandi Ahmad’s boys stood up and fought back in the second half as they turned things around through Sufian Anuar and Madhu Mohana.
Needing a win to keep their Cup hopes alive, Fandi ditched a 4-5-1 formation in favour of an offensive-looking 4-4-2 – with Khairul Nizam and Sufian Anuar deployed upfront, with wingers Nazrul Nazari and Faris Ramli deployed on the flanks.
Those tactical switches were evident on the pitch as the LionsXII showed more impetus going forward. They dominated possession, had the better chances and were perhaps unlucky to go into the break a goal down.
The opening goal came in the 13th minute when Pahang winger Azamuddin Akil surged down the right, before squaring the ball across goal for Nwakaeme to tap home.
The LionsXII huffed and puffed, but just could not find a way past Pahang keeper Nasril Nourdin in the first half.
Nizam and Sufian in particular, showed great desire to get down the channels and create space but were unable to apply the finishing touch.
The former fired over after taking down Baihakki Khaizan’s long ball and then headed just wide of goal from Zulfahmi Arifin’s free-kick, while the latter could not finish off a couple of chances following crosses from Nazrul and Hafiz Sujad.
It was a frustrating half for the LionsXII but things turned around swiftly after the break.
Just six minutes in, right-back Madhu went past Pahang’s Saiful Nizam via a Nizam knock-on, before floating an accurate cross for Sufian to nod past the despairing dive of Nasril in the Pahang goal.
The equaliser gave the LionsXII a confidence boost as they piled bodies forward in search of another goal.
The Pahang centre-back pairing of Zesh Rehman and Damion Stewart however, showed great determination and thwarted everything the Lions threw at them.
Meanwhile, Pahang forwards R Gopinathan and Nwakaeme were enjoying their opportunities to attack on the counter. They could have retaken the lead on a couple of occasions, but was foiled by the excellent Izwan Mahbud. The LionsXII custodian denied Gopinathan and Fauzi Roslan on one-on-one situations, while superbly tipping over Nwakaeme’s 25-yard powerful drive.
It looked like the game was heading for a draw, before the LionsXII popped up with an unlikely winner with six minutes to go.
A superb free-kick from Faris was met by Madhu, who powered his header from just inside the six-yard box beyond Nasril’s reach.
That goal cued wild celebrations amongst the LionsXII players and they duly sealed their first victory in this year’s Malaysia Cup campaign.
While Felda United’s 3-1 victory over Johor Darul Ta’zim II in the concurrent Group A game meant they can no longer reach the knockout stags, they can still hold their heads up high after such a courageous display in Kuantan.
LionsXII: Izwan Mahbud (GK); Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Hafiz Sujad; Nazrul Nazari (Gabriel Quak 88’), Isa Halim, Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli; Khairul Nizam (Syafiq Zainal 65’), Sufian Anuar (Afiq Yunos 80’).
Unused subs: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Aqhari Abdullah, Raihan Rahman, Emmeric Ong.