Sarawak FA overcame LionsXII 2-1 in Kuching on Wednesday night to secure their Malaysia Super League (MSL) status for next season and end the Singaporean side’s slim top-four hopes.
Patrick Nyema Gerhardt and Billy Mehmet nodded Sarawak into a 2-0 lead at half-time before Khairul Amri pulled one back for LionsXII via the penalty spot with 14 minutes remaining.
Yet it was too little too late for the Singaporeans, who couldn’t take advantage of a late Sarawak red card as they suffered a third defeat in Kuching in as many years.
Having not tasted victory in their past 10 league matches, the Crocs badly needed a positive result in order to preserve their MSL status.
Joseph Kalang Tie thought he had fired the home side into early ecstasy in the 11th minute, but his goal was ruled out by the assistant referee’s offside flag.
With Madhu Mohana missing due to injury, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad pushed Safuwan Baharudin back to pair up with Shakir Hamzah in defence, but there was little the duo could do to stop what was about to come their way.
First Swiss-Liberian defender Gerhardt rose above Izzdin Shafiq to power home Ivan Fatic’s inswinging corner on 24 minutes.
Fatic then repeated the trick 14 minutes later with another superb delivery for British forward Mehmet to do the rest, despite keeper Izwan Mahbud’s best efforts to keep it out.
LionsXII tried to hit back two minutes after the restart, but Christopher Van Huizen was unable to keep his 20-yard shot down.
Zulfahmi Arifin and Sahil Suhaimi then came on for Shahdan Sulaiman and Khairul Nizam respectively in the last half-hour as Fandi searched for a way to turn things around.
They got a lifeline in the 76th minute as Amri dusted himself off to score from 12 yards out, after being brought down by a rash challenge from Sarawak keeper Fadzley Rahim.
Yet there would be no repeat of last Saturday’s comeback show against Selangor FA as Sahil lashed wide of the mark from just outside the area five minutes later.
Izzdin Shafiq then had to slide clear after Ryan Griffiths had rounded Izwan, before the Crocs went down to 10 men with six minutes to go due to Fatic’s silly second yellow card for kicking the ball away.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Fuad Grbesic’s outfit managed to hold out for the three points which ensured they escaped relegation back to the Premier League for a second successive year.
Meanwhile LionsXII were left to reflect on a horrendous away record of just one win in 11 games this season.
They remain in seventh place, five points behind fourth-placed Terengganu with just one game remaining, Saturday’s clash with already-relegated Sime Darby at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Photo: Football Association of Singapore