BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Negeri Sembilan moved up to the second spot in Group A of the Malaysia Cup, after they edged troubled Pahang 2-1 at home. Both the hosts' goals were scored in the first half, by Farderin Kadir and Khairul Anwar Shahrudin, and centre back Heo Jae Won pulled one back for the visitors just before the fulltime whistle.
From the starting line-up, it was evident which competition were prioritised by the hosts, who are currently also chasing promotion to the Super League. The only foreign players listed by head coach Asri Ninggal in the matchday squad was midfielder Lee Tuck and defender Nemanja Vidic, with Malaysia U22 international Sean Eugene Selvaraj handed a rare start.
Pahang caretaker boss Ahmad Shaharuddin Ahmad Rosdi, sitting in for the suspended Dollah Salleh, meanwhile had use of all his imports, and young captain Matthew Davies returned to the starting line-up from his injury.
Despite playing without their stars, it was the Premier League club who took the lead, rather early in the match. In the 11th minute, Tuck released Farderin Kadir on the right, and the experienced striker dummied past centre back Heo Jae Won, before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Wan Azraei Wan Teh.
Many may have been surprised by the lead, but Group A of the competition is a group of many surprises. Earlier in the evening, Premier League side PKNP FC hammered top-tier club T-Team FC 4-1 in the other round four encounter in the group. The win made the dark horse the first team to qualify for quarter-final stage this year.
That meant only one qualification spot remained in the group, to be fought over by Pahang (3 points), T-Team (2) and Negeri Sembilan (2).
The hosts doubled their lead in the 36th minute, through a wonderful goal by midfielder Khairul Anwar Shahrudin. Receiving the ball just outside of the Pahang box, he made an almost 360 degree turn to send centre back Afif Amiruddin the wrong way, and whipped the ball into the top far corner.
The first half ended 2-0 to the Deers.
In the 57th minute Matheus Alves came close to pulling one back for the Tok Gajah. He connected with a cross from Davies with his head in the Negeri six yard box, but his touch was too slight and the attempt went wide.
At the start of the second half, Shaharuddin made two simultaneous changes; taking off Yamil Romero and Syamim Yahya for Joseph Kalang Tie and Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria.
Asri then made his side's first change at the hour mark, resting goalscorer Farderin and bringing on Faizal Abu Bakar. Later he took off second goalscorer Anwar for Shahrul Igwan Samsudin and the hosts simply shut up shop with fifteen minutes remaining.
Jae Won managed a header with eight minutes remaining, but it was too close to goalkeeper Saiful Amar Sudar.
The Korean managed to pull one back five minutes later, when Saiful pushed a Mohamadou Sumareh header into him, and the ball simply rebounded into the back of the net.
The result must definitely have buoyed the Deers' push for a promotion, while it was the Elephants' second defeat in the past week in all competitions.
Negeri Sembilan: Saiful (GK), Vidic, Tuck (C), Annas, Hazrul, Izuan, Anwar (Shahrul 76'), Farderin (Faizal 61'), Shazlan, Sean (Fauzi 87'), Sharul.
Pahang: Azraie (GK), Davies (C), Afif, Jae Won, Zubir, Romero (Joseph 45'), Azam, Syamim (Zaharulnizam 45'), Sumareh, Alves, Ashari (Christie 77').