PAHANG coach Ronald Smith’s aspiration to conquer the hallowed turf of the Jalan Besar stadium materialised in spectacular fashion as The Elephants stormed to a deserved 2-1 win over LionsXII in the FA Cup second round today.
The match started off in feisty fashion with both teams eager to keep as much possession as possible and that earnestness resulted in Saifulnizam’s elbow accidentally thrust into Lions’ midfielder Nazrul Nazari’s face, which resulted in a ring of boos each time the Pahang leftback had the ball.
The home side had goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to thank in the 18th minute, as he produced two brilliant saves to deny Fauzi Roslan and Matias Conti in quick succession.
The LionsXII custodian was again called to action 12 minutes later, and repeated his heroics by repelling Azamuddin Akil with his legs to keep his side level.
Just before the first half ended, Khairul Amri fashioned the best chance of the game but his stiff grounder from 20 yards struck the post and both sides headed to the break goalless.
Pahang came out the brighter team in the second half and it was no surprise when they took the lead through Hafiz Kamal’s sublime free-kick in the 51st minute.
Three minutes later, the visitors doubled their lead through another superb strike, this time through Azidan Sarudin’s first-timer which found the bottom corner, giving a full stretch Izwan no chance.
Safuwan Baharuddin then reduced the deficit in the 85th minute with a 30-yard free-kick that took a deflection off Khairul Azhan on its way in, and the Lions were back in it with time running out.
LionsXII tried valiantly to find an equaliser, but The Elephants withstood the late onslaught to book a place in the quarterfinals, where they will face either Darul Takzim or T-Team.
The victory also ended Lions 18-month unbeaten home record and Ronald Smith was a very happy man after seeing his side shatter that record.
“Well, it certainly nice to create a little bit of history here,” quipped the Australian when told of the feat his side had achieved tonight.
“When we went two goals up, our gameplan was not smooth sailing anymore and Lions won the majority of the second balls.
“They threw everything at us and gave us plenty of problems in the air. We were also unfortunate to concede a silly freekick which paved the way for their comeback.
“But I am happy we stood strong and got the win. This is our best result so far. The boys had played five games in 15 days, so you could see they were physically tired.
“They will get a deserved rest after this and I am looking forward to the next round of the FA Cup,” he concluded.