KOTA KINABALU: It was the end of the road for Sabah in the FA Cup challenge, but their exit from the knockout competition may be good at least as far their quest for Super League promotion is concerned.
With limited resources as well as the crazy fixtures, at least now they can focus entirely on the Premier League challenge without any interference!
Had they overcome Kedah, Sabah could have faced fixture chaos as they would be forced to play three matches in the space of 10 days with the first two games played in four days.
A victory over Kedah could have seen them playing the second round first leg tie against Kelantan on Feb 9 before taking on Shahzan Muda on Feb 12, both away matches.
Now, Sabah has all the time needed to have a good rest before they travel to Kuantan for the Shahzan Muda game.
And despite their failure to turn the tables on Kedah, who marched into the second round on a 3-0 aggregate win, Sabah gave a good account for themselves, and there was certainly no shame in the 1-0 second leg defeat on Saturday.
Sabah coach and manager Gary Phillips has little complaints on how they bowed out to Kedah, who is currently third in the Super League standings.
He said they matched their opponents and could have even won the return leg tie.
Unfortunately, they just could not find the much needed goal or goals despite being presented with the several opportunities and that does worry Gary.
“This is an area where we need to look into seriously,” said Gary, referring to their poor finishing touch.
“We played really well on the night, but unfortunately heavy rain spoiled the night on what could have been an entertaining game.
“Actually, we dominated play for the big part of the game. I think they only went at us towards the end.
“I am disappointed not because we lost or we failed to make it through, but I’m disappointed for the players, who have tried really hard. They have given their best.
And Gary was pleasantly happy with the two teenagers in Sabri Sahar and Ahmad Saini for having a pretty good game.
“They did really well. In fact Ahmad could have scored three goals for us. He was presented with one on one situation with the keeper twice. But we cannot blame him because the condition of the field did not help at all. The ball was heavy and furthermore, this was his first game, and obviously he needs more matches to be at his best.
Gary was also happy with Zainizam Marjan as well as Mohd Farid Ideris, who was sent off 10 minutes from time for a foul on a Kedah player.
“I’m not too happy with the referee, obviously if Farid’s foul was a sending off, then earlier in the game the referee should have given red cards to Kedah players too, because they made strong challenges which were more dangerous than Farid.
“So now I need to have a good look at Bobby (Gonzales) and I hope he will be okay for our trip against Shahzan Muda.
“So now I would have to wait a little longer because I thought I could play three of them (Zainizam, Farid Ideris and Bobby) together in a game.
And Gary is also pleased to see the team making progress in their game and hoping that it will go on and on.
When asked whether his side is good enough to make it a top three finish in the Premier League having had a convincing outing against Kedah, Gary said: “With another three or four quality players, I’m quite convinced we will be able to finish the season in the top half.”
But when put that only the top four Premier League teams will make it into the Malaysia Cup, Gary had another thought, and insisting, that will be their main goal for now – a top four finish!