LIONSXII 1 (Khairul Azhan 86-og)
PAHANG 2 (HAFIZ KAMAL 51, AZIDAN SARUDIN 54)
They were fearless and free-spirited once again, as Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII went toe-to-toe with Malaysia Cup champions Pahang at the Jalan Besar Stadium on last Saturday night.
But, the home side were missing one critical ingredient - a cutting edge up front.
Wasteful finishing saw the Singapore side fall 2-1 to a clinical Pahang in the Malaysia FA Cup second round.
Pahang had also beaten the LionsXII in the opening Malaysian Super League clash of the season in Kuantan last month.
Last night's result extinguished their cup hopes, along with a proud home record.
An 18-month unbeaten run at fortress Jalan Besar was brought to an end despite a signature late fightback by the LionsXII.
After spending most of the first half in the driver's seat, the hosts fell behind to two quick-fire goals, and then threw everything at Pahang.
Their bombardment of the visitors' goal fell just short, but Fandi saw a silver lining, in both the performance and result.
"We had chances, but Lady Luck was not with us today. That's the way we should play, because it's not only the result that matters, but also the determination and courage that was shown - it's great for our young players, and the fans deserved such an entertaining game," said Fandi, after his charges were applauded off the pitch.
"(Losing the home record) is not a problem for me. The most important thing is that there's now no need to talk about it any more, and no more pressure on the boys."
It was a home record that slipped away in a frantic three-minute spell of good Pahang football, and poor LionsXII defending.
The first goal came from a 51st-minute Hafiz Kamal free-kick, after Zulfahmi Arifin had blocked Azidan Sarudin at the top of the box.
The second was a result of uncharacteristically sloppy defending.
Three LionsXII defenders were left stranded by a Matias Conti dribble, and the rest stood watching as Azidan swept home from the top of the box in the 54th minute.
Chance after chance went begging for a LionsXII side that surged forward in numbers after that, but their scoring boots were left at home.
It took a Pahang player to eventually put the home side on the scoreboard.
The ever-reliable Safuwan Baharudin was thrown up front some five minutes after the second Pahang goal, and it was his free-kick that found its way into goal, coming off the post and bouncing across the line off the head of Pahang goalkeeper Khairul Azhan.
While the performance kept the fans on the edge of their seats, captain Isa Halim called for more defensive discipline from his players.
He said: "I told the boys at half-time that while we enjoy going forward, we cannot let ourselves get killed by conceding the first goal. But that was what we did - and we let in two.
"We have more freedom going forward than previous LionsXII teams - and we have the players who can do that well - but we leave gaps when we do," he said. "We must rectify that."
While disappointed that a proud home record had been punctured, Isa was already looking ahead.
He said: "We need to learn from our mistakes, bounce back, and make Jalan Besar a fortress again."
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