Youthful LIONSXII run riot against Pahang

The LIONSXII young brigade came to the fore on Saturday as they ended a two-game losing streak with a comfortable 3-0 win over Pahang in the Malaysia Super League.

Faris scores on his LIONSXII debut!
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Debutant Faris Ramli got the hosts off to a perfect start at the Jalan Besar Stadium when he netted from close range 13 minutes in, before Safuwan Baharudin doubled their lead five minutes after the hour mark with a thumping header.

12 minutes later, Fazrul Nawaz, having had two earlier strikes chalked off for offside, finally got on the scoresheet in his first league game back from suspension by glancing home a neat flick-on by Safuwan, capping off a fine evening at the office for V. Sundramoorthy's side.

Following a bright start to the season, the LIONSXII entered Saturday's encounter looking to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat by T-Team in their last league outing, which was followed by an FA Cup first round exit at the hands of PKNS FC.

However, their cause was not helped by injuries to first-choice full-backs Faritz Hameed and Shakir Hamzah, which forced Sundramoorthy to shuffle his players and move Irwan Shah and Hafiz Abu Sujad into defence.

This did however produce two spaces to fill in his starting XI and the ex-Singapore star opted to hand Faris and Zulfahmi Arifin their first taste of Malaysian football.

Three minutes in, the latter nearly made an instant impact when he picked up the ball inside the centre circle and unleashed a terrific through-ball to send Shahfiq Ghani racing through, but the pass had just too much juice on it and Nasril Nourdin was able to gather and halt the danger.

Saturday's game was Pahang's second visit to the Jalan Besar Stadium following last season's Malaysia Cup quarter-final tie against the LIONSXII and, on that occasion, they had been downed 2-0 thanks to a clinical brace by Shahril Ishak.

And the LIONSXII skipper once again played an integral part in the hosts taking a 13th-minute lead as he cleverly released Irwan, who slid the ball across the face of goal for Faris to convert at the second time of asking, after his initial effort had been blocked on the line by Saifulnizam Miswan.

To their credit, Pahang came to life after going behind and Faizol Hussin called Izwan Mahbud into action for the first time in the 18th minute when he tried his luck from 25 yards with a firm effort that was comfortably gathered by the Singapore international.

Three minutes later, Isa Halim had to be alert to clear a dangerous low cross from Fauzi Roslan but the LIONSXII were then dealt a blow when he was unable to continue after picking up a knock, although it did pave the way for the return of vice-captain Hariss Harun, who came on for his first competitive outing since the AFF Suzuki Cup game against Indonesia last November.

Nonetheless, Sundramoorthy's charges continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides and had the ball in the back of the net once more in the 36th minute, when Fazrul tapped home the rebound after Nasril had spilled a ferocious strike by Shahfiq, but the linesman's flag came to the visitors' rescue as the strike was correctly ruled out for offside.

Four minutes later, Pahang had an excellent chance to equalise after Fauzi picked up possession just inside the opposition half and played a thread-rule pass to send Azamuddin Akil racing down the left. The Malaysia international advanced on goal and looked poised to curl one past Izwan, only to fire wide after Irwan recovered in time to apply enough pressure on him.

Shahfiq, who was looking very lively up front, then really should have made it 2-0 just before halftime when Fazrul picked him out on the edge of the box with a good cross, but having done the difficult bit in leaving two defenders in his wake, he somehow managed to blaze over from eight yards with only Nasril to beat.

The 21-year-old had another chance ten minutes into the second half when he leapt high inside the area to meet a tantalising cross from Fazrul, but Razman Roslan was alert to the danger, and did extremely well to get in ahead of his opponent to head clear.

Then, in a frenetic span of two minutes immediately after, the two sides had the ball in the back of the net but on both occasions, they were chalked off by the linesman's flag.

First, an overhead attempt by Hariss was turned home by Fazrul from an offside position, before Gopinathan did the same when he pounced on the rebound to fire past Izwan Mahbud, after the keeper had parried a fierce shot by Fauzi into his path.

By now, it appeared only a matter of time before a second goal was scored and it duly arrived in the 65th minute in favour of the LIONSXII when a lovely freekick by Shahfiq was flicked on by Shahril towards the back post, where Safuwan was on hand to send a bullet header past a hapless Nasril.

13 minutes later, the hosts' set-piece prowess once again came to the fore when another delivery from Shahfiq was nodded back into the danger zone by Safuwan. Having had two previous attempts disallowed, Fazrul was not to be denied on this occasion as he stooped low to send a glancing header into the back of the net.

Although the three points were now well and truly in the back, the LIONSXII refused to take their foot off the pedal and had opportunities late on to add a fourth.

Shahril had the best chance four minutes from time after a good cross by Faris eluded both Fazrul and Shahfiq but fell to him, but just as it looked certain he would find the bottom corner with his left-footed strike, Azidan Sarudin weighed in with a fantastic sliding block to prevent his side from incurring any further damage.

LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Irwan Shah, Baihakki Khaizan (Faris Azienuddin 83'), Safuwan Baharudin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Isa Halim (Hariss Harun 22'), Fazrul Nawaz, Shahril Ishak, Zulfahmi Arifin (Safirul Sulaiman 58'), Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani.

Pahang: Nasril Nourdin, Jallaludin Jaafar, Razman Roslan, Saifulnizam Miswan, Shahrizan Salleh, Azamuddin Akil, Amirulhadi Zainal (Abdul Malik 85'), Faizol Hussin, R. Gopinathan (Azidan Sarudin 71'), Fauzi Roslan, Mohamed Borji (Hazuan Daud 43').

Attendance: 6,288

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