KOTA KINABALU: Sabah chief coach Drago Mamic said failing to make a top-two finish in the Premier League is a bitter pill to swallow! However, it is not the end of the world either as his young side has a bright future.

The Croatian said it was a pity if the team did not make it into the Super League next season, insisting that they do have the quality to play in the nation’s top flight competition.

On Monday, Sabah ended their three-match barren run by notching a comeback victory over Johor Pasir Gudang. But it proved to be a win too late for the Rhinos, as their dream of getting promoted had ended much earlier on. Nevertheless, it could still prove to be a crucial victory as they now seek to end their season with the best possible finish – at the moment fourth. Coincidentally it is Johor Pasir Gudang that sit on the fourth spot – two points ahead of the Rhinos, who are in fifth on 37 points.

With four matches remaining, there is still an open chance for Sabah to pip Johor Pasir Gudang, provided they win their remaining battles and Johor Pasir Gudang fumble at some stage.

And with the rumour that the FA of Malaysia is likely to expand the Super League next season, that means there might be a back-door entry. And if it turns into reality, then third-placed Kelantan, Johor Pasir Gudang and Sabah could benefit from the changes or expansion. So now it is important for teams like Kelantan, Johor Pasir Gudang and Sabah to try to get the best positions in the standings.

Kelantan can safely say that the third place belongs to them requiring to collect only four points from the possible nine in their remaining three matches. But the same cannot be said for Johor Pasir Gudang, as Sabah do stand a chance to pip them. “I really hope the FA of Malaysia would make a decision and expand the Super League. When you look at the top five teams in the Premier League, I think they are of the same standard as most of the Super League teams.

“You don’t see much difference between these teams (Premier League top five) and the bottom half of the Super League. “For instance, in our case, we played several Super League teams last season and this season in the Malaysia Cup and the FA Cup and we managed to win our battles against most of them,” said Drago.

On their victory over Johor Pasir Gudang, Drago said the team played well and were deserving winners despite missing at least two key players in Englishman Jamie Phoenix (injury) and Mohd Munir Amran (suspension).

“We played well. Despite trailing, they showed great fighting spirit. They have been playing with this spirit and commitment all this while. “Actually, I cannot fault them at all. When we look back, there were so many matches where the results did not reflect the way we played. “On most occasions, they are matches that we lose where we played much better than our opponents. But due to some reasons, such as miserable decisions made by the referees, we lost the games.

“Nevertheless it is (now) more important for us to look ahead instead of thinking about the negative side of our challenge. “We should take it as a motivation to try harder and be a better team so that we won’t be victims of the men in black. The match against Johor Pasir Gudang was delayed for about one and a half hours due to the faulty floodlights at the Tan Sri Dato Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium. Instead of the usual 8.45pm kick-off time, it started at 10.30pm and ended at about 12 midnight.

Nevertheless, the delay seemed to be a blessing in disguise as they fought their way back to win the battle with striker Bobby Gonzales netting twice for the Rhinos.

Osvaldo Morino had put Johor Pasir Gudang into the lead with his 20th minute strike, but Bobby cancelled Johor’s lead in the 51st minute before slotting home the winner in the 59th minute. Sabah’s next game is against Kuala Lumpur at the Likas Stadium on Friday.

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