The City Boys’ Aidilfitri mission of registering maximum points against the bottom three sides in the next three Super League fixtures at the start of Match Day 7, got off in the worst possible way when we unexpectedly collapsed to S Pahang, losing 2-1 at home, a result that saw us miss out on the opportunity to go fifth, while at the same time allowing our east coast opponents to leapfrog us on goal difference causing us to slide to seventh, level on points with them, Petaling Jaya C and Melaka Utd., who all have played a game less.       


After licking our wounds for almost a fortnight since the 2-1 defeat at Negeri Sembilan, we were raring to go out and put away the misfortunes in Paroi by claiming victory over the Elephants and regain the Hari Raya mood that went missing in the wake of that deflation which occurred following back to back wins at home against Melaka Utd and Sabah.  Furthermore, we had a stellar record against S Pahang in 2021, beating them on all four occasions, twice at home and twice away, in the league and the Malaysia Cup, and Christophe Gamel’s side has not had the best of results so far, losing 3 of their 5 matches, with points only coming at home with a win against Penang and a draw with Petaling Jaya C.  Our head coach Bojan though, had exercised caution in taking S Pahang lightly, as their gameplay and quality in the side, had yet to reflect in the outcome of their matches.     


For the ninth time in as many matches this season, Bojan tinkered with the line-up again, making two changes from their last outing, Zhafri and Partiban cast aside for Hadin and Ryan, who were making their returns in the starting eleven since Melaka Utd and Sabah respectively.  The defensive unit of Gallifuoco, Irfan, Declan and Kamal Azizi was retained for the fifth successive match, deployed as a back four this time, with Ryan and Akram as the two holding midfielders.  Koubemba and Hadin took up flank positions around Romel, while skipper Paulo Josue was deployed just behind him, in a 4-2-3-1 shape…     


S Pahang was quicker out of the blocks, having more of the ball with their high energy play, shutting down the gaps and space disallowing the home side from settling down, winning the first and second balls with feisty aggression, forcing Kuala Lumpur City to practically camp in our half, within the first 10 minutes.  


However, against the run of play, we had a half-decent chance on goal at the expiry of the 10th minute, when Ryan from inside our half spots Koubemba peeling away from Azwan Aripin, then delivers a cross-field long ball for him to outpace his marker with a run to the byline down the right.  Koubemba cuts the ball back to his unmarked skipper waiting in the penalty area, but Paulo Josue’s shot came off the centreback Johan Martial, who scrambled to block and avert the danger.  A minute later, Irfan whips a long ball from midway in our territory finding Romel’s run down the left channel.  The Colombian, in his usual style, holds up the ball, twisting and turning, forward and backward, pulling away two defenders, creating space for his teammates then playing it straight back for Declan, to send an inviting cross to the far post for Koubemba, escaping Azwan’s shackles, though the Congolese’s attempted header fails to connect. 


 The Elephants in the 12th minute had the best chance for the opener after play was spread across by Manuel Hidalgo to Abdul Malik on the left.  His first attempt to lift it into the box came off Kamal Azizi, the rebound instead, was struck superbly for Baqiuddin Shamsudin’s point-blank header, forcing Mendoza to produce a reflex save in keeping the scores level.  


A quarter of an hour gone, the City Boys had another look at the goal.  Koubemba receives an excellent cross from the left by Declan again, he jinks and teases Azwan, then lays it off to Kamal Azizi on the overlap.  The right-back drills the ball low across the face of the goal, agonisingly Romel failed to get a touch to divert home the sitter, while Paulo Josue at the far post, arrived a fraction too late.


We once again knocked on S Pahang’s door for the opener two minutes later.  Declan intercepted a pass intended for David Rowley right at the halfway line and forwards it to Romel.  The 24-year-old powers down the middle, before reaching the penalty area, and spreads it wide to Hadin on his left.  The No. 27, expertly lifts the ball over the Pahang defence searching for Paulo Josue’s header at the near post that went straight into Mamadou Samassa for a reflex stop.    


S Pahang responded to our period of pressure with a chance of their own, 20 minutes into play.  A clearance deep within their half was fumbled by Ryan near the centre circle allowing Hidalgo to push into city limits.  The nippy Argentinian squares it to Nor Azam Azih bearing down the left with no one covering the space.  He in turn plays a short forward pass into the box to set up the overlapping Malik that caused alarm bells to ring amongst the Red & White, but Mendoza stood firmly at his near post to deny Malik’s venomous shot from an acute angle.


The city side immediately got the ball to the other end of the pitch.  In the 21st minute, Paulo Josue’s header from Mendoza’s goal kick, found Romel’s run down the right, and with an exquisite touch, he feeds a square pass into the box meeting Koubemba’s run, which the latter repositions his body to strike, but the 1.97-metre Samassa got down quickly to smother the stinger.


Proceedings then descended into a lull where both teams cancelled out each other in the battle for midfield supremacy, but exploded back to life in the 33rd minute when the visitors were awarded a freekick from 30 metres out caused by Irfan’s foul on Sean Giannelli, of which following a short lay off from Hidalgo, Azam let fly a world-class screamer, that swerved then dipped beyond Mendoza at full stretch, into the top corner.      


 Just a minute after S Pahang broke the deadlock, we earned a free kick for a foul by Ashar Al Aafiz on Hadin, a similar distance to target as the opening goal in the match. Paulo Josue though skied it into row Z.  


Raising the tempo with three minutes to the breather of halftime, the City Boys were granted a prospect for the equaliser, a freekick for a handball by Azwan right outside the Black And Whites box. Our captain curled the dead ball past the wall, looking for the inside left of the goal, again Samassa was equal to the task, pushing the ball out for a corner.      


At halftime, we trailed 1-0.  


Bojan threw on Zhafri in Hadin’s place for the second period, with the former making his 150th appearance in the colours of the home side.  


Ten minutes into the second chapter, we had more of the ball since the restart, but S Pahang was resolute in defending, keeping us at bay as we went searching in urgency for the leveller.  


Samassa was again called into duty in the 56th minute, this time using his height to great effect, punching Paulo Josue’s direct freekick from 45 metres to safety, with Gallifuoco lurking nearby.  Our Brazillian was once again in the thick of the action a minute onwards, collecting Akram’s forward pass, then channelling it down the left flank before Koubemba lifts beyond the far post, spotting Zhafri’s incoming run into the box which Azwan just does enough, getting an important touch, guiding it away for a corner.  The 33-year-old playmaker flighted the corner into the danger area, Gallifuoco rose to meet with a flick-on header inside the six-yard box, too far for Koubemba.


Right on the hour mark, we launched a quick counter-attack from within our half, Ryan’s long punt to the left, had Koubemba racing to gather it and bear down on goal.  With better options of Paulo Josue, Romel and Zhafri in the box, he chose to hit a cross-shot that Samassa easily plucked out to safety.   


In the next quarter of an hour, we just ran into a brick wall of S Pahang’s stubborn defending, everything we threw, they repelled by defending deep, and all their men retreated into their final third, filling up space with bodies of yellow shirts everywhere.  We struggled to create an opening, rushing the issue when there was time to play and be calm, often finding our crosses into the box too close to their giant custodian in goal or headed towards safety, or losing the ball with misplaced passes.  Nothing seemed to go right during this long period.  S Pahang meanwhile was content to let the City Boys do all the attacking, pulling out all the stops in sticking to their game plan which meant absorbing whatever we could throw, falling at every opportunistic moment, wasting as much time possible to run down the clock and this included their physiotherapist’s snail jog when attending his players on the pitch, while always being a danger on the counter.   


Route 1 seemed to be the preferred option for the City Boys as the clock ticked on, our desperation for the equaliser all too clear.  However, we almost got it right in the 75th minute of play.  Ryan, inside our half, switches play from right to left to the feet of Koubemba.  He feigns a move inside, then switches to the outside to fool Ashar, threading a weighted pass into the box hoping to find Romel, but last year’s Best Foreign Player in the National Football Awards was a shadow of his ruthless self today.


Our worst fears came true two minutes later when the Pahangites were awarded ridiculous penalty decisions for handball, giving them the perfect chance to wrap things up in style.  Hidalgo, on a rare foray upfront in this half, reacting to Baqiuddin’s lob from Samassa’s goal kick, tried escaping past the attention of Declan’s and Irfan’s marking down the right, and as he went into the area, the ball came up to strike one of our defender’s hand, surely a ball to hand situation, but not so according to the referee.  An unjust decision again affects the outcome for KL City.  Hidalgo himself steps up to take the spot-kick, sending Mendoza diving the wrong way for S Pahang to double their lead.


With time fast running out, Bojan, replaces Declan with Partiban, going to a back three, while pushing Koubemba up, in a move that almost bears fruition.  Ryan wins a miscued pass in S Pahang’s half at the midpoint, pushes it to Romel on the right, who plays a one-two with Zhafri, and then fires a low cross to the front post.  Samassa’s giant boot snuffed the danger out before Koubemba had time to react.   


The City Boys refused to throw in the towel just yet despite the odds and reduced the deficit by 4 minutes from time.  Irfan’s long ball to the left found Gallifouco in acres of space.  The Australian’s cross almost finds Koubemba at the top of the box, if not for the interception by Samassa who rushes out having caught the ball though failing to hold on to it as his momentum took him past his goal area, inviting Paulo Josue to volley into an empty net with clinical precision for his 22nd goal as a KL-lite, establishing himself as the City Boys’ all-time top scorer in the Super League.


Our hopes lit up when the fourth official lifted his board, indicating time added on like 5 minutes.  We thought, did not make any use of it, failing to create any kind of opening or chance to trouble our opponents for the equaliser.  It was a case of too little too late, and once again our wastefulness in front of goal, especially in the first half, put paid to our chances for victory today, just as it did in Negeri Sembilan. 


When the final whistle went, we slumped in disappointment once again, the Raya blues persisting yet.  For the second time in the league this year that we have lost on the bounce (Kedah DA & Johor DT, Negeri Sembilan & S Pahang).  With almost a third of the season gone, our home form, the bastion of last season’s successes has only provided us with 7 points from 5 matches in Cheras this term, including two defeats.  We went through the entire 2021 league campaign, with only five losses, but we already have four reverses at this juncture.  We have to step things up, which includes doing better on the road than before where only managed a win and five draws in the 11 away fixtures of the previous year if we are to have any chance of finishing in the top five.  We need to get a run of form before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup fixtures later in June, for the entire well-being of our squad.       


Next up, is Mission Aidilfitri Part 2 at home to the bottom of the table, Penang.  We cannot afford to underestimate any team in the top flight after the bitter experience with S Pahang and Negeri Sembilan.  Every dog has its day, as the saying goes, perhaps we took things too lightly not realising that every team will fight tooth and nail to get the better of us = the Malaysia Cup champs, however good, however ugly.  Borrowing a quote from the former deputy prime minister and Olympic Council of Malaysia president, Tun Abdul Razak, in the first national sports awards in 1967, he said “Never give up and do not be discouraged by minor setbacks because if there were no failures, there will be no triumphs.  The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it.” 


Kuala Lumpur City vs Pahang: 1 Mendoza (GK), 4 Kamal Azizi, 9 Gallifuoco, 12 Declan (79’ 16 Partiban), 17 Irfan, 6 Ryan, 11 Koubemba, 14 Akram, 27 Hadin (46’ 8 Zhafri), 28 Paulo Josue (C), 7 Romel


Subs Not Used: 20 Azim Al Amin (GK), 10 Safee, 21 Kenny, 22 Nik Umar, 30 Fakrul


Referees: Mohd Fuser bin Mad Salleh; Assistants: Nojey ak Naking, Mohd Faisal bin Mohd Zin; Fourth Official: Jeevanathan M. Pooniamoorthy


Attendance: 524



He told The Voice of City Boys:


It’s difficult to talk about the individual performance after a tough loss like that. I am always willing to give my all to be able to help our team until the final whistle. 


In the last 4 games, we have only conceded 1 goal from open play, which is a positive. Now turning our eyes to Penang & getting ourselves ready for that much-needed victory. 



To watch the highlights of this match, please click https://youtu.be/arUl_zNCPuQ


To watch the complete match, please click https://youtu.be/dohJHiVDj90




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For Season Ticket Holders (B2 City Boys), enjoy access to Away tickets (Contact Shamim for details)    _____


Prepared by The Voice of The City Boys