James hat-trick knocks LionsXII out of Malaysia Cup
The Gladiators star returned to haunt V. Sundramoorthy's men as he bagged a superb treble to help them overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg
By Teng Kiat
He had struck a 97th-minute equaliser in the second leg of their Malaysia Cup semi-final against the LionsXII last year, who then went on to crash out on penalties.
After their 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the same competition last Saturday at the Jalan Besar Stadium, ATM FA striker Marlon James vowed that his side would be a different proposition back home.
On Friday night, those words proved prophetic as he spearheaded their charge into the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup after a 4-1 demolition of the LionsXII in the return tie at Selayang.
The 36-year-old netted a superb hat-trick to help them win 4-2 on aggregate, with two of his goals coming after Hafiz Sujad’s stunner had put the visitors ahead on away goals four minutes into the second half.
James threatened as early as the seventh minute, Safuwan Baharudin doing well to prevent him from sweeping in Fitri Omar’s knockdown from close range.
Four minutes earlier though, LionsXII skipper Shahril Ishak looked to have been shoved in the box by right-back K. Reuben but nothing was given. That, and Safuwan’s narrow miss in the 13th minute, were about the only times they went near the ATM goal in the first half.
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud did well to smother James’s effort in the 15th minute after he muscled his way into the box from the left, but could do nothing about the opener seven minutes later.
Hariss Harun inadvertently turned a cross from James towards goal, forcing Izwan to save. But the ball hit the unfortunate custodian’s leg as he pushed it to the ground and went back over the line.
Izwan was beaten again just past the half-hour mark when James latched on to a slide-rule ball from Hairuddin Omar and coolly slotted it into the bottom corner.
Shakir Hamzah nodded Shahfiq Ghani’s corner over as half-time approached, though Izwan had to push away Fitri Omar’s 25-yard stinger to prevent his team from going in three goals down.
Then, Hafiz appeared to have turned the tide in their favour with a bolt out of the blue after the break. From 30 yards, the diminutive midfielder rocketed a swerving strike that dipped past Farizal Harun in the ATM goal.
The LionsXII were now ahead on away goals, but James was far from done.
A free-kick was deflected over on the hour mark, before he headed the resulting corner just over. Another header two minutes later flew straight at Izwan, but James made his next set-piece count.
Faritz Hameed’s jostle with Venice Elphi near the left touchline seemed like a nothing challenge, but James couldn’t have cared less. From 35 yards and a seemingly impossible angle, the Vicentian blasted the ball into the top corner past Izwan, who only managed to get a hand to it.
V. Sundramoorthy brought on Fazrul Nawaz to join Shahfiq upfront as they trailed again, but James made sure of ATM’s victory minutes later.
Picking up the ball 25 yards from goal, the burly forward drove a grounder that nicked off the heel of Isa Halim to nestle in the bottom corner with Izwan wrongfooted.
There was no way back for the Malaysian Super League champions after that despite the dismissal of Amiridzwan Tajuddin late on, as their quest for the Double came to a crushing end.
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