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Marlon James finally got the better of Baihakki in the second leg (Photo:FAS)

LionsXII undone by a hungrier ATM FA side

Marlon James finally got the better of Baihakki in the second leg (Photo:FAS)

FAS

The Malaysian Super League champions lost 4-1 in a forgettable performance and were knocked out of the Malaysia Cup by a side they had beaten twice in the league

COMMENT
By Bhas Kunju | Chief Editor Goal Singapore

It was never going to be enough. A slender 1-0 home win against a bogey team in a two-legged Cup match always spelt disaster even as the LionsXII completely dominated their opponents in the home leg.

But that first leg result was put down to a night off for the visitors and for those present it was evident that ATM were not at their best. Chance after chance was passed on by LionsXII and there was always the gut feeling that it would come back to haunt the side in the second leg, but it was also a worrying sign that the team had trouble scoring. After all, the winning goal had come from right-back Madhu Mohana who had grabbed his first goal of the season.

The second leg result however, just adds on to the woes. The 4-1 result meant that the LionsXII suffered their worst defeat in their short two-year history, with the 3-0 loss at Kelantan in the league last season being the next closest. ATM just threw bigger punches (including a literal boot to the face Fazrul Nawaz will testify) and had a better offensive strategy,

Hafiz Sujad's goal was a wonder to watch, and there is no doubt that the young midfielder will go on to establish himself as a key player for the national team beginning with the SEA Games in December. But his effort masked the fact that the Lions had done very little else to even warrant themselves that goal.

Poor defending, and perhaps even a touch of bad luck for the first, led to the first two goals by ATM FA. Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharuddin, ever present and reliable at the back, could not stay on their feet as 34-year-old former Malaysia international, Hairuddin Omar split the defence wide open, allowing another veteran in the giant frame of Marlon James to power through and push the home side ahead on aggregate and on momentum.

At the end of the first leg, walking out of the Jalan Besar dressing room with Akon blasting through his headphones, clearly to block out all reminders of the earlier defeat, I had to signal by hand for James to stop for some quick questions. I asked the St Vincent and the Grenadines international if he would score in the second leg. He said he'll try.

Clearly that was an understatement with the forward, who turns 37 next month, grabbing a well-deserved hat-trick.

Faritz Hameed would have every right to feel aggrieved by the free-kick that led to the third ATM goal and James' second, which effectively killed off the feel-good feeling of the night for the Singaporeans. The fourth was just personal icing on the cake for James and a cruel deflection prevented Izwan Mahbud from having a chance of at least keeping the scoreline down.

But at the end of the night, the game was simply down to a team that played with more intent and was more lethal in front of goal. It took three poor games for the LionsXII to find their feet in the group stage. Unfortunately, the knockout stages do not afford that luxury.

I could say it is now time to do a review of the result but that would be pointless since almost every key player for the LionsXII is already headed out the door for next season.

But, that is a discussion for another day.

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