By Gabriel Tan
An error from LIONSXII keeper Izwan Mahbud allowed Fauzi Roslan to open the scoring for Tok Gajah in the ninth minute, but a comical mix-up at the back 11 minutes after saw Pahang captain Jalaluddin Jaafar head into his own net to hand the visitors an equaliser.
However, the hosts continued to push on in the second half and eventually got a deserving winner in the 75th minute when Hafiz Kamal's cross-cum-shot crept in at the far post.
Despite coming up against the runners-up of the recently-concluded Malaysia Super League campaign, Pahang entered Tuesday's game high on confidence having qualified to the knockout round from a tricky group consisting of Selangor, Sarawak and T-Team.
And while it was them who got off to a brighter start, the LIONSXII nearly took the lead against the run of play in the seventh minute when Shahril Ishak scuffed a shot wide from ten yards out, after a Shaiful Esah freekick had been half-cleared straight to him.
Following that close scare, Pahang immediately pushed forward and duly took the lead two minutes later. Seconds after Azamuddin Akil had sent a vicious shot back off the post, Fauzi latched onto the loose ball and cleverly created space for himself, before firing in a low drive that squirmed under Izwan's body and into the back of the net.
Nonetheless, the Singaporean custodian made amends 11 minutes later when he played a part in the visitors' equaliser, although the blame will lie solely with Jalaluddin. A long clearance from Izwan was flicked on by Khairul Amri, although there appeared to be no apparent danger as Wan Azraei Wan Teh off his line to make what looked to be a routine catch. Inexplicably, the Tok Gajah skipper decided to nod the ball on and sent a looping header over his onrushing goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Despite seeing their lead evaporate before their very eyes, the hosts refused to be disheartened and continued to dominate proceedings. Two minutes after the half-hour mark, another error from Izwan nearly cost the LIONSXII as he completely missed a left-wing cross by R. Gopinathan, only for Fauzi to send a header just wide of the unguarded goal.
Undoubtedly stunned at the way they were being outplayed by their less-illustrious opponents, the visitors came out of the second half looking a different side and created a good opening in the 53rd minute, when Safuwan Baharudin met a Shahdan Sulaiman freekick with a thumping header that came back off the crossbar.
Six minutes later, it was Hariss Harun's turn to threaten the Pahang goal but he could only send a header wide from six yards out after Shaiful had picked him out unmarked inside the area with a pinpoint delivery.
But despite the couple of scares, Dollah Salleh's men always looked in control of the game and had an excellent chance to reclaim the lead in the 71st minute when Boris Kochkin found himself in a one-on-one situation with Izwan after gliding past a challenge from Safuwan. The Singapore international however did well to make himself big and denied the Russian playmaker.
Four minutes later, Shaiful came to his side's rescue when he made a vital clearance at the far post to prevent the ball from reaching the waiting Azamuddin, after Gopinathan had gone on a bursting run down wing and left three players in his wake, before whipping a dangerous cross into the area.
Still, there was little the LIONSXII backline could do moments later as Pahang finally grabbed their second in somewhat fortuitous fashion. Picking up possession down the right, Hafiz cut back onto his left foot before swinging in a cross that caught Izwan out and made its way into the far corner.
Despite now having a goal to sit back on, Pahang continued to look the more adventurous of the two sides and Izwan had to be alert in the 82nd minute to parry over a dipping freekick from Hafiz, who had gone straight for goal with a freekick from the right in a bid to replicate his earlier effort.
Deep into injury time, Saifulnizam Miswan wasted an excellent chance to add a third for the hosts when he glanced a free header wide from eight yards, although those late misses failed to dampen the celebrations in the Pahang camp when the final whistle blew, as they moved one step closer to the Malaysia Cup semi-finals.
Watch: Pahang beats Lions XII 2-1... More Videos
Pahang: Wan Azraei Wan Teh, Jalaluddin Jaafar, Zaiza Zainal Abidin, Saifulnizam Miswan, Shahrizan Salleh, Azamuddin Akil, Hafiz Kamal, Boris Kochkin, R. Gopinathan, Fauzi Roslan, Maycon Carvalho (Faizol Hussain 56').
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Irwan Shah, Safuwan Baharudin, Baihakki Khaizan, Shaiful Esah, Isa Halim, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Shahril Ishak (Yasir Hanapi 74'), Safirul Sulaiman, Khairul Amri (Agu Casmir 85').