Fandi Ahmad might be under pressure following LionsXII's 0-1 loss to Selangor FA, but it is the players who have to take the majority of the blame, says Gary Koh as he witnessed an insipid encounter at a rain-drenched Shah Alam...
There are losses and then there are losses.
Fandi's passion has not been fully reciprocated, his efforts not fully appreciated. His intensity has not been matched by his players.
LionsXII recorded their fifth Malaysia Super League (MSL) loss of the season as they succumbed 0-1 to Selangor FA at Shah Alam Stadium on Saturday - but it was the manner of the defeat that would have rankled most among their supporters.
What would have hurt more than the narrow one-goal margin in the end was the way the way the team looked so bereft of ideas both in defence and attack. The title-chasing Red Giants were so dominant that goalkeeper Farizal Marlias had barely a serious save to make all evening. So disjointed was the LionsXII's overall performance that victory clearly flattered Mehmet Durakovic’s charges, who came into this match having just been eliminated from the AFC Cup after a narrow defeat to Indonesian side Arema Cronus in Malang in mid-week.
Head coach Fandi Ahmad seemed resigned at his players’ array of errors on the night, problems that had been previously pinpointed but apparently not fixed as he sat helpless on the bench. The exasperation at full time was real - as a player and now as a coach, Fandi wears his heart on his sleeve and certainly expects nothing less than total commitment from his charges.
The most significant progress the side have made this season under the current man at the helm was their never-say-die attitude in pushing for goals till the final whistle. But even that was missing this time as their sole purpose seemed to be completing the full duration of the match – with only club stalwarts Izwan Mahbud and acting skipper Safuwan Baharudin turning in their usual reliable games.
Khairul Amri was anonymous up front, the club top scorer rarely causing the Selangor defence any trouble, but it was hard to blame him when his teammates constantly failed to fashion any chances in the final third. It was not tactics that failed LionsXII for once, but a lack of application and persistence to push beyond the usual mental boundaries and get above themselves in hostile territory. In wet and miserable conditions in a cavernous stadium away from home, the Singaporean players simply failed to stand up and be counted.
No place to hide
With many first team players in this campaign having extensive Malaysian and international experience in dealing with superior opponents and daunting crowds, it was disappointing that these lessons were never applied against an average opponent at best. All this added up to one of the mildest contests in recent memory in what has traditionally been a fierce Singapore-Selangor rivalry.
The chronic insipidness had clearly left Fandi a very broken man on the inside. Surely he deserved better than this after opposite numbers Pahang's Zainal Abidin Hassan and Selangor's Durakovic had publicly backed him to get things right. His passion has not been fully reciprocated, his efforts not fully appreciated. His intensity has not been matched by his players.
Unlike the smaller-profile S.League competition where locals could get away with occasional lacklustre games so long as their rice bowls were secure, the determination and high intensity of Malaysian opponents and fans to get the better of the Singapore-based team leaves players with little room to hide. The tactical and technical quality might be similar on both sides of the causeway, but there is far less room for such turgid displays of football in the MSL.
To succumb in such a manner was unacceptable. Five times they have stumbled and fan patience is now being severely tested – the same supporters who publicly and actively called for the return of Singapore’s favourite footballing son to replace predecessor V. Sundramoorthy last year are now giving way to rumblings of discontent.
The performance against Selangor was a massive letdown and a shame; there will be plenty of reflection to be done if this class of 2014 are to turn things around. There is still time to reverse their fortunes and win back hearts and minds but the LionsXII have to give it their all.
One hopes that this rollercoaster of a campaign has reached its nadir and that evening in Shah Alam, with a heartbroken Fandi speaking to reporters as his players trudged off a sodden field in defeat, is but an unfortunate blip in a successful second half of the season.
Photo Credit: Zaid Ayid/asiana.my