KOTA KINABALU: It will be a massive game for Sabah when they take on Armed Forces on the road in a Premier League challenge tonight.
The Borneo outfit is facing what can be described as their worst ever start to the season if they fail to get anything out of the match to be played at the Selayang Municipal Council Stadium in Selayang.
The first three games saw them register a scoreless draw in the opener against KL Felda United before succumbing to two consecutive defeats at the hands of Selangor PKNS (0-2 away) and National Under-19 or known as the Harimau Muda (2-3 home).
Things could get worse than this as a failed mission could see them rooted at the 12-team Premier League standings which has never happened before in the history of Sabah football.
Taking on what is seen as the favourite teams early in the season did not help Sabah’s cause or rather its coach-manager Gary Phillips at all, at least as far as their position in the standings is concerned.
They are third from the bottom at the moment on one point while Shahzan Muda and MP Muar are the bottom two. But all three teams are level on one point. Only goal difference or deficit separates the three teams.
KL Felda United FC, Selangor PKNS as well as Armed Forces are seen as title contenders along with the Harimau Muda, defending champions.
Although Gary is not about to press the panic button as yet, but the Australian is fully aware of the consequences his team will be facing if they fail to get the desirable result against the Armed Forces.
Three straight defeats are too much to take for any team, including Sabah and Gary knows that pretty well.
“We will be more confident this time,” he said, when contacted prior to their departure to the national capital yesterday.
“This will be a massive game for us,” he admitted. “It will be a tough one too,” he added.
But Gary said they will be going into the game with more confidence after going through the tough three games.
“I don’t have a full squad to select from, but we will be going there with 16 players,” said Gary.
Among those missing the trip are striker Bobby Gonzales and midfielder Radzi Mohd Hussin, who now add to Sabah’s injury list of four players.
The other two still recuperating from injury are Zainizam Marjan and Gasili Pengalot.
“But we will be more confident this time, and we might be able to come home with something.
However, it will not be easy for Sabah, as Armed Forces, who used to be the whipping boys of the Premier League, are now strengthened by several experienced players including former national striker V. Saravanan.
“I have not made any decision on my first team. I have yet to decide how we are going to play or who is going to play.
“We will have a light training tomorrow morning (today) and we will see and decide whether we will opt for offensive play, but we are not going there just to defend.
But Gary said that he is unlikely to make any major changes to his first team apart from bringing in fresh legs to fill in the vacuum left by Bobby and Radzi.
“I’m not going to make any big changes because we are trying to create consistency and understanding in the team. It may not be the same 11 but most of them will start the game. There is no point to make so many changes as it will only make it difficult for the team or the players.
On Bobby’s injury, Gary said the striker is having a groin problem and he could be out for two to three matches, while Radzi is having a soft tissue problem.
And Gary is not too happy to see his player(s) aggravating a soft tissue injury, as it indicates that they are not fit. “We can’t afford to have this kind of injury. Soft tissue (injury) should not happen in football. So next season, we must be better prepared ahead of the new season,” added Gary.
The 16 players that made the trip are Harold John, Mohd Salawi Jasad, Md Reithauddin Ag Embran, Julamri Muhammad, Billyton Vun Ket Ming, Mohd Farid Saibun, Mohd Farid Ideris, Shahrul Azhar Ture, Christopher Musa, Mafry Balang, Henry Parsi, Razlan Otto, Alto Linus, Madzalan Emoi, Rosdin Wasli and Azrul Ejati Damsah.