Heat’s on Sabah!

RIGHT MOOD … (from left), Zainizam, Radzi Hussin, Rosdin and Reithauddin enjoy their light training at the Likas Stadium yesterday.
KOTA KINABALU: Gary Phillips is expecting a ‘tough night’ when they take on Super League outfit Kedah in the FA Cup first round showdown at the Likas Stadium in what can be dubbed as their biggest game thus far this season.

And he hopes his charges will respond well to the challenges ahead of them and go into the match that kicks off at 8:15pm tonight with a positive mindset.

But Gary refused to put additional pressure on his side, insisting that it will be just another football game.

“It is tough playing at home first because the pressure is on you. You can’t afford to concede and you have to score goals, knowing that you have to play away on Saturday.

“There is a lot of consideration that we need to look into, but at the end of the day it is just another game of football.

“This will also be an opportunity for us to grow as a team and to learn from this experience … whether it is positive or negative … it is a chance for us to play at a different level. But hopefully we can respond accordingly and not pick up any injuries or suspensions,” said Gary, when met at their light training at the match venue – the Likas Stadium yesterday.

Against a solid side like Kedah, Gary admitted they just need to up their tempo and improve on their performance.

“We just cannot afford to play like we did in our last game (against MP Muar). We certainly need to improve on our show.

“We also have to toughen up in midfield and we also need to show enough quality and patience when we do have the ball to support the front players.

“If there’s any chance of progressing we need to at least come out with at least a goal or two.

“Our belly’s been a bit soft lately so we need to toughen that area.

“We need to toughen up the midfield and put pressure on them. Any good player can play without pressure, but even good players, if you put pressure on them then it becomes difficult.

“We saw Steven Gerrard marked out in the game against Wolves. He was marked out of the game. So even with a player of his quality when you do a good job on him it becomes difficult.

“We need to shut down their key players and minimise their strengths and hopefully capitalise on the opportunities that we get.

On how he is going to take the game, Gary said: “The nucleus of the team will be the same. There may be one or two changes to toughen up. Regardless of what system or tactics or what function each player has at the end of the day we’ll need to defend and attack as a team.”

Gary is expected to start midfielder Rosdin Wasli in his likely five-man midfield alongside Alto Linus, Shahrul Azhar Ture, Mafry Balang and either Zainizam Marjan or Mohd Farid Saibun with Mohd Farid Ideris likely to be the lone striker.

He is likely to be sticking to skipper Md Reithauddin Ag Embran and Henry Parsi in the centre of the defence while Julamri Muhammad on the left with Madzalan Emoi coming in for Mafry Balang on the right.

Kedah on the other hand will be without its influential skipper Victor Andrag. The defender was not part of the traveling Canaries.

However, the visiting Kedah will still have the services of their veteran midfielder in Baddrol Bathiar as well as national striker Saramsak A/L Kram and Azlan Ismail.

Commenting on Kedah, Gary said: “All I know (about Kedah) is what I saw on Saturday night on TV1. And the team looked very solid. They are hardworking and the front two players worked very hard and the captain makes a lot of things happen and the Number 6 in midfield. Defensively they are very solid and obviously psychologically they are on a high because of their position in the league. They have back-to-back wins behind them.”

“If they’re sending their youth players … that means the team has a lot of confidence, but we’ll wait and see, maybe they’re playing mind games.

“It doesn’t matter if it is the young players or the senior players it is still a big challenge for us.

“Those players are in the squad for a reason and they must have good quality. This is probably a bigger challenge for us because those young players will obviously want to prove a point that they want to be in the first team so this is a chance to show their coach what they can do.

“If I was a player that would be the attitude I would be taking and probably the attitude the coach is hoping for.

“They obviously have a day left of travelling so maybe younger players travel better and recover quicker so obviously the coach has these things in mind when he’s considering coming.

“I think they’ll try to get an away goal and maybe then sit back and counter attack like most teams do and then when they play at home that is a different story altogether.”

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