KOTA KINABALU: Although it is still early days in the season, it is good to see that the Rhinos have gone through their Premier League challenge with their unbeaten run intact thus far.
They have also managed to keep a clean sheet after three matches, an early indication that there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel, despite the fact that almost all of its first team squad left the team at the end of last season.
On Monday, the Rhinos put up another encouraging performance to eventually overcome an amateur side – MBJB FC of Johor – who have not more than five full-time or professional players under their ranks.
Although it was not their best game, neither was it pretty from the Rhinos, but no one could question their commitment and dedication to the team.
Despite going into the battle wounded, their spirit was as high as ever – a fact admitted by their team manager Rahman Zakaria. “I’m pleased to see they responded well after our FA Cup setback,” said Rahman.
“I have no complaints because what matters most is we won the game.
“Although we looked to be struggling at times, but you (also) cannot fault the players because you can see that they fought their hearts out and showed 100 per cent commitment in the game,” he added.
“I’m also happy to see our young players like Leopold (Alphonso Otong), Azrul (Ejati Damsah) and Alto (Linus) coping well in the game.
“As long as they continue working hard and try to improve themselves, I’m very sure they will be better players in the near future.
Overall, Rahman said he was satisfied with the team, before insisting that they will get better as the league progresses.
“I’m satisfied, but of course we need to improve on certain aspects of our game. I believe our head coach (Wathiq Naji Jasim) and his coaching staff will correct them in training and hopefully they won’t repeat it again in our coming matches,” said Rahman.
Wathiq made five changes to his first team that lost 1-0 to Kuala Lumpur in the FA Cup challenge.
And it seemed to work wonders as Sabah were surely the better side, although at times they looked to be struggling.
He brought in Gasili Pangalot, Julamri Muhammad, Leopold Alphonso Otong, Azrul Ejati Damsah and Mohd Farid Saibun for Rezuan Khan Aman, Zainizam Marjan, Selyvister Saini, Henry Parsi and Alto Linus.
Zainizam and Henry were not even in the first 18. Zainizam was out due to a groin problem while Henry was not considered for the game.
And Wathiq made a surprise choice in attack as he put a lone striker – Azrul Ejati Damsah and let Mohd Farid Saibun and Leopold play at the right and left flanks respectively.
Billyton Vun Ket Ming and Julamri played in the centre of midfield, while Wong played behind them, just ahead of the four-man defence comprising Mohd Faris Azlan Mat Isa, Hardy Charles Parsi, Mafry Balang and Gasili Pangalot.
And Harold John also did well enough, covering for the injured first-choice custodian Irwan Jamil.
He managed to make one penalty save after making a blunder earlier on by bringing down Mohd Farid Ideris.
Sabah scored the opener through Julamri’s spot kick after Azrul was brought down inside the penalty box before the former turned provider for the second goal when his superb cross from the left side of the field was headed by second-half substitute Alto.
Seven points after three games see Sabah sitting in fourth spot, level on points with third-placed T-Team of Terengganu, who hold a better goal average.
Young Tigers remain on top of the standings on nine points, while second-placed Johor are also on nine but the national Under-19 side occupy the top spot having scored more goals than the Southern State team.
Sabah’s next game is away to Shahzan Muda on Feb 16 before the Premier League takes a one-month break yet again – what a brilliant fixture made by the FA of Malaysia!!!