KOTA KINABALU: Gary Phillips is on cloud nine after seeing his side notch their biggest win this season by thrashing Melaka 6-0 in an away match on Monday.
The convincing victory is a clear indication that Sabah do have what it takes to challenge for Premier League glory although Gary is not willing to be drawn into the picture … but not just yet.
He, however is confident of finishing in the top six, before adding that it will take a lot of hard work from the players for Sabah to finish fourth while finishing second is a possibility hoping lady luck plays its role.
But Gary knows deep inside that gaining Super League promotion is within their reach provided that key players are fit and stays fit. Suspension and injury to key players can wreck their season and that adding one or two key players during the upcoming transfer window this April will be crucial.
The big win is not really a surprise among the players who knew that it could have happened much earlier.
In fact they could have done it against Sarawak and Penang USM FC last week– but nothing materialised out of the two games due to poor finishing and the lack of passion and enthusiasm.
They could have won with ease against Sarawak, but unfortunately they were beaten 2-0 by their arch rivals despite creating more than half a dozen decent goal-scoring chances.
After failing to convert these chances they flew home empty handed from Kuching.
And they could have done it against USM FC last Friday after getting off to a lightning start by scoring two goals in the first quarter of the game.
But … at the end of the day a 2-0 win was all they managed, no thanks to their mediocre second half performance.
But against Melaka, it was a different story.
It did wonders for Sabah as Mohd Farid Ideris, Shahrul Azhar Ture, Bobby Gonzales and Razlan Otto all put their names on the score sheet.
It was Farid Ideris that drew first blood for the team by scoring the opener from the spot before Shahrul scored the second with a brilliant individual effort. Bobby Gonzales made it 3-0 to help the team take a healthy 3-0 lead at half time.
After the break, Bobby scored his second while Razlan came off the bench and scored twice, including a 30-metre cracker.
They were smiles all around at the airport upon their arrival yesterday, Gary included, who later pointed out that his charges got it right this time!
He also insisted that his gamble of resting Alto Linus and Shahrul in the 2-0 victory over USM FC also paid off.
“The team was fantastic. The players and I were happy with the victory. But first of all, I would like to comment on our tactical approach…we got it right on the night.
“Farid (Ideris) played up front and Shahrul wide on the left and always pushed forward which gave the opponents a tough time.
Strangely, Melaka played defensively and that made things a lot easier for them.
“We were three-nil up at half time but we could have easily gone four or five goals up.
“The defence led by Rosdin (Wasli) was great. He was our man of the match. He repelled what the opponents threw at us.
Gary said the fact that goalkeeper Azizon (Abd Kadir) had to make saves inside two minutes of play from Melaka but after that Azizon was never troubled and that showed Sabah’s domination of the game.
“It (good defensive play) set up nicely for our offensive play and we could have ended the game may be with 10 or 11 goals.
The victory lifted Sabah to fourth placing on 16 points just two points behind the Armed Forces with Felda United in the lead on 25 points followed by Selangor PKNS with 22 points.
However, Gary’s hope of seeing the team climb to third didn’t materialise as Armed Forces also recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Police in another Premier League tie, to eventually stay ahead of Sabah by two points.
“I would have like it if we were third because we still have the chance to do so. We are fourth and at least we are still in touch with the teams above us.
“I have faith in the team and I’ve said early in the season that one of these days other teams will be thrashed by us and it happened last night.
“It showed that we are on track and the team is progressing well,” he said.
Asked whether the huge score line indicated that Sabah have finally solved its scoring woes, Gary only laughed and said that the hard work must continue!
“Well, we could have won with a bigger margin but the most important thing is that the game showed we have depth in the squad,” he added.
“I started with Farid up front and Bobby just behind and when I looked at the bench we have Zainizam (Marjan) and Razlan.
“It shows we have in-depth strength and it is up to me to select them. Hopefully they will perform when called upon and adapt to the system that we will use,” he said.