Source : New SabahTimes
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will now have to do it the hard way in claiming a place in the knockout stage of the Malaysia Cup challenge.
With only three points separating the top four teams in Group C after the completion of the first round on Saturday, there is little room for slip-ups for any of the top teams.
Only the top two teams would earn the two automatic quarter-final berths from the group, while the third team would follow suit if they can make it among the best two third placed teams in the three-group competition.
For Sabah, the road to the quarter-finals will not be easy despite the fact that they have done pretty well in the first round until the shock 2-1 defeat to Police on Saturday.
At the end of the first round, Sabah occupy the second spot on 10 points, one point behind leaders Kedah.
Perak are in third on 9 points, while Police fourth with 8 followed by Sarawak 3 and Pahang 1.
Sabah recorded three victories, one draw and one defeat, which is considered a satisfactory outing, but things will certainly not be easy in the second round as the race for the two automatic slots is still wide open especially for the top four teams.
Of the five second round matches, Sabah would have to play three of them away to Perak, Police and Sarawak, and the two home matches will be against Kedah and Pahang.
And Sabah will have a tough second round opener where they will be traveling to Ipoh to take on Perak on April 14, followed by their second consecutive away fixture up against Sarawak in Kuching on April 21. After the two away fixtures, Sabah will take on Kedah at home on April 21 followed by their second home game against Pahang on May 5, before concluding their group campaign by playing away to Police on May 26.
Against Police, goalkeeper G. Jeevanatham was the culprit as his two blunders denied Sabah from collecting at least a point.
The former national goalkeeper, who has done quite well in the Rhinos’ first four games in the competition, by conceding a mere one goal, gifted Police with the opener in the 10th minute when he failed to clear the ball properly. The ball fell to Benard Sichangi Mwalala who easily slotted home from inside the box – stunning the about 2,000 home fans.
But Charles Obi equalised for Sabah in the 18th minute before Benard netted his second after picking up another poor clearance from Jeeva in the 38th minute.
The blunders by Jeeva saw him being replaced by youngster Irwan Jamil at the start of the second half, and Irwan saved Sabah from further embarrassment as he made two superb saves that eventually denied Benard from registering a hat-trick.
But Sabah will have the opportunity to avenge their loss when they take on Police for the second time in a week on Friday, but this time it will be a Premier League date.