KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is paying the price for not having competitive pre-season games prior to the start of the new season.
Playing and registering impressive wins over local clubs proved not to be the best way to get the best out of the team ahead of the new season as they now suffered the consequences of not being in the best shape that they should have been!
Three matches have gone, and one draw and two defeats are certainly not the best way to start a new season for any team.
But there is nothing much Sabah head coach cum team manager Gary Phillips could do as their plans for a friendly tour to Peninsular Malaysia did not materialise due to time constraints after the FA of Malaysia (FAM) decided to start the new season in early January instead of late January as they initially planned.
Gary, who was signed middle of December, could not agree more that a lack or rather not having any competitive games is one factor that contributed to Sabah’s stuttering start to the season.
But he’d rather not want to start looking for excuses, as what matters most for the team right now is to keep on improving.
Gary, like the rest of the disappointed and frustrated fans who turned up for the clash on Monday, is as disappointed and frustrated as any one else, and when met yesterday, his face showed it all albeit that he did not want to show his disappointment.
He knows his job will be on the line if such results continue, but he is convinced that the team will only get better.
Sabah could have won the tie against the young national Under-19 side with better finishing and more compact defending.
But their lack of match fitness failed to cope with the fast paced game compared to the young national side, who were obviously far more match-fit than Sabah.
Despite not having the best of starts to the season, Gary remains clam and focused on the job and rather looks at the positive side the team has made.
Commenting on the 2-3 defeat, Gary said: “If I look at the bigger picture I can say I’m happy because of the much improved performance than our first two games. Not just the performance but I think it was more of a total performance, where we showed more consistency.”
“And if you take the three mistakes out that we made at the back I think you’d agree that it was a pretty good performance.
“We obviously can’t afford to continue to make those mistakes and hopefully we fix them quickly but if you look at the amount of possession and dominance that we had and the amount of chances we created, you can’t ask for much more.
“On another night we would probably have been up three nil at half time and maybe 6-2 or 7-3 would have been a fair result.
Gary said even the top clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal make mistakes, but it is important for the team to minimise them.
“We must try to minimise making mistakes especially in key areas. Sometimes you get away with it, but most of the time you will be penalised. And we also need to start putting the ball into the back of the net.
Gary said he accepts the responsibility of fielding a half-fit Bobby Gonzales, who is suffering from a groin injury.
“I accept some of the responsibility in that it was my decision to play Bobby Gonzales who had two or three very good one-on-one chances with the goalie.
“He’s been struggling with a bit of an injury but it only came to my attention on the last day. But groins are always a tricky injury to have as hamstrings are. He said he was OK, but clearly he wasn’t OK.
“I can understand his passion and desire to play but at the end of the day he needs to make a decision and firstly based on the team and secondly his future. He could be out for four or five games now and realistically it’s probably a good thing that it happened now because we might have a break coming up shortly after the next couple of games.
“As I said, I accept some responsibility for playing him but still regardless of the injury I’m sure he’ll be disappointed for not taking those chances that he had.
Gary also revealed that midfielder Radzi Mohd Hussin will also be out for at least a couple of games after picking up a hamstring injury.
On the team’s fitness, he commented: “It’s going to take five or six games. Justin and I spoke this morning at our recovery session about the team and this is really our preparation. Up to now we’ve only played local teams.”
“This is our chance to play against tougher teams that have had good preparations so we’re going through a preparation phase still. And based on the performance last night I think we’re pretty happy with the way we’re going.
“I think we always said that it was going to be five or six games before we start to get a really good understanding of what qualities we have in the team.
“Fitness can always be improved. If we want to play total football, total attractive football, we need to be fit.
“My philosophy is I like to attack and I think everyone likes to attack and score plenty of goals and I think the way my substitutions went last night it was all attacking players I put on.
“It was a home game and a chance to entertain your fans and to try to create chances and score goals.
“It’s not my philosophy to tactically put 10 men behind the ball and try and play dull football. You want to go out there and win and you want to entertain.
“It’s part of my job description and it’s part of my ethics as a coach so it’s something that we are working towards but because of our fitness levels I don’t want to put 10 men behind the ball and just sit back and defend.
“But to attack you use a lot of energy and it takes a lot of fitness to do that so it’s going to take time.
“I don’t think anyone can walk back from that stadium last night and say they weren’t entertained. Of course everyone was frustrated that we didn’t score goals, there were five goals scored, it could have been 12 goals scored.
“There was plenty of action, plenty of entertainment, the quality wasn’t always great but look at the conditions. The conditions were atrocious, the mud was 6 inches thick, there was rain, it was difficult to play in, really difficult. And despite the conditions I think we put up a pretty good performance.
When asked to comment on Sabah’s Number One custodian Harold John, Gary said: “Goalkeeping is a difficult decision. When you’re not in the action for half an hour and suddenly you have to make two or three saves and suddenly you have to make two or three tough decisions and unfortunately he (Harold) got caught on the first one.”
“We spoke about it after the game, his decision-making was poor on that occasion but he’s still young and hopefully he’ll learn from it. He’s a young goalkeeper with not a lot of game experience and next time hopefully he’ll make the right decision.”