KUALA LUMPUR: Gary Phillips is sticking to his winning line-up when Sabah take on Harimau Muda on the road in a Premier League challenge at the Hang Tuah Stadium tonight.
The Sabah coach and manager sees no reason to alter things around, especially when the team are going great guns in their quest for Super League promotion or Premier League glory.
Last Friday, high-riding Sabah notched a well deserved 2-0 victory over Selangor PKNS – a game that Gary described as their best performance thus far this season.
But if Gary is to make changes, it will be minor.
He said he is still tinkering on whether to stick to Radzi Mohd Hussin to orchestrate his midfield or bringing in Mohd Farid Saibun.
Gary knows how important it is for him to put up his strongest side against the energetic national Under-19 side coached by former Sabah player Ong Kim Swee as this will be a big three points for his side.
He admitted that returning home with three points will be a big incentive for the team, as it will not only keep the pressure on table toppers KL Felda United FC, but would also help them reduce Felda United’s lead from six points to three.
KL Felda United FC, who will not be in action, are leading the pack on 35 points while second-placed Sabah are on 29.
Gary knows fifth placed Harimau Muda are no pushovers. But on the other hand, he said his charges are all ready to turn the table on the young Malaysian side that inflicted Sabah with their first home defeat of the season last January.
Then Sabah were leading twice before bowing out 3-2.
This time, Sabah no longer want to see it happening again despite the fact that they will be playing at home.
“They have a quality attack,” said Gary of their opponents. “I predict this is going to be an interesting battle.
“They (Harimau Muda) have nothing to lose and will go for it. So it is important for us to defend well.
“We have to work collectively in defending. I have no worry about our attack because in some stage of the game, we will be able to create chances. And we have good attacking players, who can create chances as well as score.
“Our main priority is to defend well and keep a clean sheet. If we can do that we won’t have a problem in winning our battle.
“This is a big game and there will be a lot of pressure. But then again, as I said earlier, there is a lot of confidence in the team and I believe we are pretty much in the mood for the game,” said Gary.
Gary’s only concern ahead of the game is that his side did not have enough rest.
“We spent two and a half hours taking a flight to Kuala Lumpur and another two and a half hours to get to Melaka by bus. This travelling is taking its toll on the players, but there is nothing much we can do.
“I just hope the players can cope with it and play a good game tomorrow.
Zaykiel Leong, who is the latest addition to the squad, did not travel with the team, as Gary believes the latter still needs to adapt to how the team are playing.
“He still needs to learn how we are playing now because the way we play (now) is completely different to last year. But for Monday’s clash (against Armed Forces – May 17) I might consider him,” said Gary.
For tonight’s clash, Gary has named an 18-member squad.
Azizon Abdul Kadir, who has done well for the team between the goalposts, will be retained as the Number One ball stopper, while skipper Md Reithuddin Ag Embran and Rosdin Wasli will remain at the heart of the defence with Gasili Pengalot and Julamri Muhammad at right back and left back respectively.
Alto Linus will be at the left of midfield, while either Radzi or Farid Saibun will start alongside Zainizam Marjan in the middle of the park, and Shahrul Azhar Ture on the right.
Gary’s two front liners are Bobby Gonzales and Mohd Farid Saibun.
Razlan Oto, Mohd Salawi Jasad, Hardy Charles Parsi, Sabri Sahar, Billyton Vun Ket Ming, Farid Saibun and Henry Parsi, who came in for Madzalan Emoi will be on the bench.