MALAYSIA SUPER LEAGUE
It was their final chance to improve their dismal away record and, on paper at least, it seemed an opportunity for the taking. But as the LionsXII have proved on multiple occasions this season, matches are not won on paper.
Up against 10th-placed Sarawak, the LionsXII, who remain seventh in the 12-team table, flopped on the pitch, going down 1-2 at the Sarawak Stadium in Kuching.
The result also ended their slim chance of finishing in the top four.
"I thought we were disappointing in the first half with our performance," said coach Fandi Ahmad after the match.
"In the second half, we were better and I thought we should have got another penalty but that's football," he added.
Returning from across the Causeway with nothing to show for has been an all too familiar outcome this season for the LionsXII and with Sarawak on a 10-match winless run, it had seemed that the LionsXII would finally add to their solitary win on the road.
However, it was the Crocs who meant business while the LionsXII flattered to deceive.
A 2-1 win over bottom side Sime Darby in May is the only league victory that Fandi's men have recorded this season in the 11 away matches. The other results were three draws and seven defeats.
It seems the LionsXII's defence had been left behind at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The statistics do not lie. On the road this season, they have leaked 22 goals. A puzzling number given the fact that at home, they have conceded only 10.
Last night, it was once again nightmarish defending that proved to be the LionsXII's Achilles' heel.
Sarawak capitalised from two cases of appalling marking from identical first-half corners.
The first goal and instance of poor defending came in the 23rd minute. Ivan Fatic whipped in an inswinging corner which was met by an unmarked Patrick Gerhardt at the near post. The Liberian's powerful header left goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud with no chance.
When Sarawak earned another corner in the 39th minute, it was clear that the LionsXII had failed to learn their lesson from the opening goal, and a lapse in marking was punished once again.
From a carbon copy of his earlier corner, Fatic's ball into the box found Billy Mehmet, who edged in front of his marker to nod the ball into the net.
Khairul Amri did give the LionsXII a lifeline when he successfully converted a 75th-minute penalty, after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohd Fadzley.
Sarawak were down to 10 men in the 85th minute after Fatic received a second yellow but ultimately the hosts rode out the remaining minutes to secure their victory.
The LionsXII will end their league campaign with a home tie against Sime Darby on Saturday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
With the Malaysia Cup campaign starting next month, Fandi must now look to solve the LionsXII's frailties on the road if they are to be considered serious challengers for the trophy.
This article was first published on August 20, 2015.
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