LionsXII's away blues continue in Sarawak
Fandi's men come unstuck on the road again and miss out on top-four spot
(Nyema Gernhardt 23, Billy Mehmet 39)
(Khairul Amri 75-pen)
No top-four finish in the Malaysian Super League, and a harder road in the Malaysia Cup.
It remains a mystery why the LionsXII are woeful away from home, but capable of beautiful football at their own Jalan Besar Stadium, after Fandi Ahmad's side fell 2-1 to lowly Sarawak in their penultimate Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash in Kuching last night.
In nine out of their 11 away matches on the road this season, and in six out of their last seven games, the Singapore outfit have allowed the home team to take the lead, most of the time leaving themselves with too much to do in the latter stages of the game.
And so it was last night at Stadium Negeri as well, when they just couldn't defend the only two corners Sarawak had the whole match, as first Nyema Gernhardt, and then Billy Mehmet, profited from former Inter Milan midfielder Ivan Fatic's left-footed set-pieces.
Even though the tireless Khairul Amri pulled one back from the spot in the 75th minute, and maybe had another penalty just a minute later, the LionsXII faltered in their bid to avoid their seventh away defeat of the season.
The Malaysian FA Cup champions gave a glimpse of the brilliance they are capable of, when Amri played a lovely return ball for left back Hafiz Abu Sujad to overlap, stride clear on goal and bring off a fine save from Fadzley Rahim.
But that was the exception rather than the norm, as pass masters Shahdan Sulaiman and Izzdin Shafiq this time could not find their teammates in blue often enough.
Wingers Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and Christopher van Huizen also rarely reached the byeline to deliver dangerous crosses for Khairul Nizam and Amri to attack.
The Singaporeans also had to contend with desperate Sarawak opponents who were keen to intimidate and play act, as well as an erratic referee who played just three minutes of additional time at the end of an eventful second half.
However, even with the 84th-minute dismissal of Fatic for two silly incidents within a minute, the LionsXII could not find an equaliser as a section of the Sarawak Ultras spilled onto the pitch to celebrate their team's first win in 11 games and their MSL survival at the expense of ATM FA and Sime Darby.
"It's a matter of confidence, and you can really feel it playing home and away," said coach Fandi.
"We were not aggressive enough in the first half although we were much better in the second half.
"We have to learn to play to our capabilities in away games if we want to do well in the Malaysia Cup.
"It's disappointing we can't reach the top four now, but we have to get over it and go into the Malaysia Cup with the right frame of mind."
The LionsXII's final match of the MSL campaign is on Saturday against Sime Darby at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
"If we are to challenge for the (MSL) league title, we may need to look at something different because the Malaysian teams have increased their foreign quota and gotten stronger. But it is also important to keep grooming local players."
- Coach Fandi Ahmad on the proposal to allow LionsXII to sign foreign players
- Johor DT 4 Perak 1
- Pahang 2 Felda 2
- Selangor 3 Kelantan 0
- Sime Darby 1 ATM 0
- Terengganu 1 PDRM 0
TEAMS & LIONSXII'S RATINGS
- SARAWAK: Fadzley Rahim, A Varathan, Ronny Harun, Hairpl Mokhtar, Ramesh Lai, Joseph Kalang Tie (Mazwandi Zekeri 90), Ivan Fatic, Shahrol Saperi (Dzulazlan Ibrahim 73), Ryan Griffiths, Nyema Gerhardt, Billy Mehmet.
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 6, Faritz Abdul Hameed 6, Safuwan Baharudin 6.5, Shakir Hamzah 6, Hafiz Abu Sujad 6.5, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6, Izzdin Shafiq 5, Shahdan Sulaiman 5 (Zulfahmi Arifin 60) 5, Christopher van Huizen 6, Khairul Amri 6.5, Khairul Nizam 5 (Sahil Suhaimi 65) 6.
SARAWAK - LIONSXII
5 Offsides 0
2 Corners 5
7 Shots on Target 3
3 Shots off Target 7
3 Yellow cards 2
1 Red cards 0
- Attendance: 6,000
- Referee: Zulkifli Ahmad 4/10
- Match rating: 7/10
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
KHAIRUL AMRI (ABOVE)
The 30-year-old LionsXII striker toiled tirelessly without much support but he was at the heart of a few good chances, including winning and scoring a penalty.