KOTA KINABALU: Sabah, who went second in the standings on Friday, will have their title credentials put to a real test as they face the defining moment in their Premier League challenge next month.
It will be a tough first week for the Gary Phillips boys.
They will be involved in a top of the table clash by taking on runaway leaders KL Felda United FC on the road on May 3.
Four days later, they face third-placed Selangor PKNS at home before traveling to Melaka taking on fifth-placed Harimau Muda on May 14.
The match will be followed by their home date with fourth placed Armed Forces (May 17) while their remaining two fixtures in the month of May are against Johor MP Muar (away – May 21) and Shahzan Muda (home – May 24).
Gary said this will be a big week for Sabah football which could be the defining moment for them in their challenge, as it will give a telling factor where the team will be heading.
The Sabah coach and manager admitted it will be a massive game for his high riding side, but refused to be drawn into Sabah’s chances at going for the Premier League crown.
However, he said that no matter what happens in the game against Felda United, he is convinced they will be able to make a top four finish as long as his charges are able to keep their consistency going.
When met at the Sabah Sports Board’s Under-12 futsal tournament, Gary said: “It will surely be a tough four games for us. And now it is the question of whether we are able to handle the pressure. And this question goes to our players.”
“I’m happy to be in the position we are in now, and I believe that we are capable of a top two finish or at the very least, inside the top four.
“But the next four weeks will really decide our fate in the competition. So now it is important for us to focus on the massive games ahead of us.
“I’m happy to hear that the players have been talking about the game against Felda. They realise that if we can return home happily from the trip, the gap will be reduced to three points.
“I know they are pretty excited in the position (second) and now we need to keep working hard because it will be difficult next month.
“There is no point talking too much about the whole thing now because we have not won anything yet.
Gary said he was happy with the development the team has made. “Prior to the season, we only had about two weeks of preparations, which was definitely not enough. So when the season started, it took time before the team settled down.”
On Friday, Sabah notched their eighth victory of the season that put them second in the standings on 25 points, six behind Felda and one ahead of PKNS.
This has been Sabah’s best ever position in the League in recent years.
Commenting on the 3-1 victory over Police on Friday, overall Gary was happy, but was a little disappointed for letting in one goal, which was the only goal they have conceded in their last five outings.
“Last night, it was entertaining, we created a lot of chances, and it could have been eight, nine goals, but quality in finishing is still not there yet, but it is improving.
“I’m happy with the overall performance, but unhappy with the goal.
Gary was also delighted to note that when Police scored the equaliser, his charges had that mental strength to restore their lead.
He also gave credit to his three substitutes – namely Razlan Oto, Radzi Mohd Hussin and Alto Linus, for making an impact when coming in for Mohd Farid Ideris, Sabri Sahar and Zainizam Marjan respectively.
The team’s back four – Md Reithauddin Ag Embran, Rosdin Wasli, Julamri Muhammad and Gasili Pengalot also received a pat on the back from their coach.
As for Zainizam, Gary said the former national striker is a quality player who plays intelligent football, and is a big asset to the team.
However, Gary admitted that the midfield department is an area which still needs reinforcing.
“We need a leader in the middle of the park. We need a playmaker, someone that has pace and is aggressive. It is a big responsibility for our young players like Mohd Farid Saibun, Radzi and Sabri.”
But the most important thing said Gary is that the team must stay together and keep the good momentum going. He was also happy to see that the management has been very supportive of the team.