BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The writing had been on the wall, and in the end Negeri Sembilan did not do enough to avoid the drop.
Needing to win their round 21 Malaysia Super League (MSL) match against Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to at least retain their slim survival chances, Mario Lemos' charges instead fell to a 2-1 defeat at the KLFA Stadium, condemning them to a swift return to the Malaysian second tier for the 2019 season.
Although Alex Gomes' 44th minute header cancelled Bobirjon Akbarov's opener just two minutes earlier, the Deer could not find their second goal. In fact, it was the hosts captain Indra Putra Mahayuddin who sealed their fate, through his winning goal three minutes from time.
Goals scored in the KL-Negeri match
Speaking to the press after the match, Lemos remarked on his side's inability to produce another upset, like they had done earlier on Wednesday, by defeating Selangor 3-1 at home.
"I think we were under a lot of pressure, it was too intense and we could not play the way we did against Selangor.
"We also did not do enough to defend against set-pieces. We were aware that Kuala Lumpur (KL) are good, but we simply did not do a good job of defending against their set-pieces and we conceded both goals from set-piece situations," he explained.
Another reason behind the defeat is the last-minute absence of forward Nicolas Velez, who scored a brace against Selangor. The Argentine had initially been listed in the starting line-up on Sunday, but at the last minute was swapped with Fakhrul Aiman Sidid and did not turn out for them.
"We've been a little unlucky; our key players have been injured at important moments. Velez has been scoring a lot of goals for us. He brings in creativity and creates a lot of chances, but before the game he told me he couldn't play.
"I cannot force (injured) players to play, and in the end he was a big miss as the system that we've been playing with is for Velez," noted Lemos.
But all is not over for the Deer, as there is still the fight for the eleventh spot, which will book them a spot in the Malaysia Cup following the league conclusion.
"Now we want to qualify for the Malaysia Cup. We're battling Kelantan for that 11th place, that means we must win our last league game against Melaka United. It's a big tournament and we want to be a part of it. The local players know that it's a prestigious tournament, they want to be in it while it's also an opportunity for them to court offers from the other teams.
"We have to do it at least for the fans, to play in it at our home in Paroi. I feel sorry for the fans, it has been a hard season for them, but everyone at the club has tried their best to stay in the Super League," he stated.
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