LionsXII 2-0 Pahang: Lions end run in the M-League on a high

Despite defeating Pahang in the second leg of the 2015 Malaysia Cup, the LionsXII lose on aggregate, in what was their last game in the M-League.

The LionsXII pulled off 2-0 win over Pahang in the second leg of the 2015 Malaysia Cup final.

First half strikes from Christopher Van Huizen and Faris Ramli gifted the home side a deserved victory, but the Lions crash out of the tournament as they lost 4-3 on aggregate.

The home side needed at least a 3-0 victory to progress and as such, they were pressing Pahang from the get-go.

A few seconds in, Faris broke free on the left to cross into the box, but goalkeeper Khairul Azhan was on point to punch clear.

The LionsXII registered their first pop on target in the second minute when Shahdan Sulaiman, the evening’s midfield dynamo, released the ball from the centre to Faris on the left, who then sent in a cross towards Safuwan Baharuddin. The forward met the ball with a header, but it was over the bar.

Fandi Ahmad’s strategy was clear–to crowd out Pahang’s dangermen Dickson Nwakaeme and Matias Conti. This worked throughout the entire first period as the striking duo had nothing to show upfront.

LionsXII maintained possession in the opening 10 minutes and finally got the first goal in the 12th via birthday-boy Van Huizen.

Sloppy defending allowed a cross from the left to stray into the path of the 23-year-old who had so much time to line up his shot. Khairul took a dive to his left, but could not reach the ball which hit the back of the net, sending the 5,898 strong crowd wild.

The Lions threatened just seconds later via Faris who cut in from the left flank to shoot, but he only managed to shave the right crossbar.

The home side’s dominance continued and it was Faris on target this time. The pacey winger met Nazrul Nazari’s cross from the right into the six-yard box–throwing his body in the path of the ball to force in Lions’ second of the evening.

Two goals up, LionsXII began to slow the pace of the game, keeping the ball in their half.

Three minutes from the half-hour mark, captain Izwan Mahbud, who had no real save to make so far, launched a long pass from his own penalty box towards Safuwan, but unfortunately a Pahang defender was a millisecond earlier to deny the forward.

The Elephants had a quiet game and were clearly frustrated at the scoreline. In a drop-ball incident where the referee requested Dickson to pass the ball back to the Lions, he refused and attempted to attack down the left flank instead.

In the 35th minute, Faris found himself with an opportunity to score again. He cut in from the left to fire a shot, but he hit the bar instead.

Six minutes from the end of the half, Pahang had their first real chance at pulling one back. Azamuddin Akil picked up a throw-in deep in the LionsXII's third and dribbled towards the centre to shoot. However, his effort was always rising.

For the remainder of the first period, the home side continued to hold majority of the possession and shut out the Elephants’ towering forwards.

The second half started with–again–the Lions’ determination to score.

Just two mintues in, Safuwan latched onto a through ball and squeezed in between Pahang’s centre-backs. He pulled off a hard shot, but he sent it into the skies.

The visitors bagged a little more punch in the second period. Dickson finally won a battle with Shakir Hamzah and barged towards the six-yard box. He spotted an on-rushing Conti at the far post and sent in a low cross. However, the Argentinean couldn’t reach the ball in time.

Dickson started a similar move two minutes later but was snubbed by a timely Shakir tackle.

The Lions’ hearts skipped a beat in the 59th minute when Zesh Rahman met Azamuddin’s pinpoint cross to head the ball into the back of the net, but the linesman flagged for offside.

Pahang kept trying to break through the centre, but were constantly blocked by the Lions’ brick-wall defence.

In the 68th minute, Azamuddin managed to break away from Hafiz Sujad and dash into the penalty box. He released a low hard cross which was parried by Izwan. The loose ball was charged down by three Pahang players, but Shakir kept his calm and toe-poked the ball to safety.

Madhu Mohana’s constant battling with Dickson, eventually took its toll and he was replaced in the in the 69th minute–Zulfahmi Ariffin took over his role in the centre of defence.

Just as Khairul Nizam came on as substitute, the Lions managed to pull together a series of passes in the final third. Shahdan was the last to get hold of the ball at the top of the box to shoot, but he wasn’t able to wrap his foot around it to trouble Khairul.

Faris was replaced by Sahil Suhaimi 12 minutes from time after his umpteenth sprint down the flanks, but it was Zulfahmi who was put to the test.

He was in place of Madhu who did well to hold out Dickson and was left chasing shadows by the big forward in the penalty area. Lucky for the home side, Shakir was there to help clear the danger.

In the 82nd minute, Sahil used his quick feet to fend of Matthew Davies, but the latter palmed the striker in the face, which resulted in a penalty claim. The referee made the right call to award a free kick outside the box.

Drama ensued in the 85th minute when Nazrul refused to kick the ball out off play when a Pahang player was down injured. His long ball, however, was not at all threatening for the Elephants.

In the closing minutes of the game, LionsXII desperately needed to score one more goal and as such, Pahang used gamesmanship to buy themselves time.

In the 89th minute, the visitors could have killed the game when Dickson used a nifty back-heel pass to release R. Gopinathan into a one-on-one situation with Izwan. The goalkeeper did well to keep the home side in the tie.

With three minutes of added time, the Lions tried all they could, but couldn’t find the much-needed third goal.

Although the game ended with the LionsXII winning 2-0, they lose the quarter-final on a 4-3 aggregate score.