The writing was on the dressing room wall: No guts, no glory.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad told The New Paper that he had issued the challenge to his players before last night's clash against Sarawak, played in front of a raucous full house at Stadium Negeri.
But, try as they did, the Malaysian Super League defending champions just could not get going as they were outrun, outthought, outpaced and outscored by a speedy and clinical Sarawak side, who were operating without their two injured import forwards and a recognised striker.
"The goals can be attributed to miscommunication, players straying out of position, and ball-watching," said Fandi, who did not mince his words.
"After equalising, we lost our duty to defend... We were too slow, and we didn't have the oomph. We settled down only after 28 minutes.
"Sarawak responded better than us to a defeat in the previous game and they played their best game of the season. They were faster to every ball and every tackle."
Under the night shower, it was Sarawak who settled down first and the Crocodiles were snapping at every opportunity, including Joseph Kalang Tie's 12th-minute chip which Faritz Abdul Hameed scrambled to head off the line.
Just four minutes later, S Chanturu opened the scoring when he nodded in at the back post after Junior Eldstal had flicked on Ronny Harun's long throw.
Nazrul Ahmad Nazari equalised with a clever header to catch Sani Anuar Kamsani off his line in the 36th minute, but again the hosts needed just five minutes to restore their lead.
Lot Abu Hassan launched a quick counter-attack to set up Chanturu, who slotted past Izwan Mahbud.
The gamble to deploy defender Safuwan Baharudin up front alongside Khairul Amri did not reap many rewards other than winning numerous aerial challenges.
Rasyid Aya completed the scoring - but not the LionsXII's misery - in the 76th minute when he finished off Zamri Morshidi's pass.
There was still time for substitute Khairul Nizam to miss two gilt-edged chances in the last five minutes, including an open goal in the 88th minute, before misdirecting a header minutes later.
Never mind the title, the LionsXII, who slipped to ninth, will find it difficult to rein in teams like Terengganu, Kelantan, Johor Darul
Ta'zim and Selangor to meet their topthree target.
Short of throwing in the towel, Fandi said: "We fought and created, and we could have made it 3-3. Safuwan took the knocks and won many balls for us.
"I'd rather try and make changes and die fighting. I have no problems taking responsibility for the tactical decisions.
"I'm disappointed not because we lost 3-1 but (because) if we scored two goals in the last two minutes, we could have gotten a point.
"Those were clear chances but I won't blame Nizam. This is his first game back from injury and we need to back him.
"Let's not think about the title. Let's just focus on how to bounce back in the next game and take it one match at a time.
"We need the players to respond with a good performance and victory against PKNS next Saturday."
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