KOTA KINABALU: Whether it is too soon or otherwise, yes we can now start dreaming of Super League action next season.
And whether it is too early to make any assumption of us winning the Premier League crown, but then again the answer is another yes … we are still pretty much in it, and why not as we are only six points behind the league leaders KL Felda United FC, who have played a game more.
Football is a funny old game, and that is why it is the number one sport on the planet.
With eight matches to go, anything can still happen and our hope is for the team to do well in all their remaining matches.
On Friday, Sabah notched their ninth win of the season, and moved second in the standings on 29 points while Felda United stayed top on 35.
But the extra game that Sabah has over the table toppers can help reduce the gap to three points, and if this happens, Felda United will be the side that will be under pressure.
With that in mind, the Gary Phillips’ boys are now seen as Felda United’s closest rivals for the crown.
The other title pretenders in the likes of Selangor PKNS and Armed Forces are two points behind Sabah in third and fourth respectively, while Harimau Muda is in fifth on 24 points.
Neighbouring Sarawak, who have done Sabah a big favour, by registering a shock 1-0 over Felda United, are in sixth on 24 points.
As things are looking now, everything is pointing to proving the Sabah coach and manager is wrong.
Gary had early in the season, insisted that it was a little too soon to expect him to guide the team to promotion in his first season in charge and what more to win the Premier League title.
Then he said he needed two years to realise our dream of top flight action. Then he also set a two-year target for the team to play in the Super League.
What he pledged then was a top-six finish, before changing his heart and setting a top-four target in order for Sabah to be in the Malaysia Cup.
But for this case, Gary will be happy if he is on the wrong side, as like any of us, he is one coach who will be over the moon, if Sabah achieves success or even gain promotion.
Furthermore, he is the only foreign coach in the current M-League campaign, with the rest of the teams opting to go local.
But now things have changed rather fast, and even Gary, who has turned the team from no-hopers to title contenders, quietly believes that promotion is now within reach.
He has every reason to be in the mood for glory as the team’s title challenge or their promotion bid has grown stronger each day.
Gary said as long as the team can play the way they did in the 2-0 home win over Selangor PKNS on Friday, their dream of Super League action next season can be turned into a reality.
“This was our best game thus far this season. If we continue playing like this in our remaining games, I don’t see any reason why we cannot finish second,” said Gary, who still refused to be drawn into his side challenging for the Premier League crown.
“In the first 10 to 20 minutes we were outstanding. We caused them a lot of problems with our high tempo game. Although late in the first half we slowed down a little, but that’s normal in football.
“It was almost a complete performance all round from the players, and I am really proud of them,” he added.
In the second half, Gary said they dominated play throughout, before citing ‘looks like they cannot content with our play and resorted to the long ball game. But our defenders were excellent at the backline and always kept their composure.’
One player that really impressed Gary on the night was Zainizam Marjan, but the Aussie was quick to point out that the rest have also done their respective roles excellently.
“He is a football brain player and always keeps his composure. If he was in his early 20s, I’m very sure he will be back into the national squad. Of course at the back of him, our defenders have done a good job too. You can see that Selangor (PKNS) only managed to make one or two shots.
Their brilliant effort has earned the team a weekend break and they would resume training on Monday.
“I want them to enjoy the win and the occasion,” said Gary while reminding his charges to always put their feet on the ground.
But despite being on cloud nine, Gary admitted that he is already thinking of Sabah’s next two games up against Harimau Muda away and home to Armed Forces.
“These are two massive games, and if we can get six points from these matches, then that will be a giant step for us to have a good season.
He then said that with Mafry (Balang) around, it will only make the team stronger.
But Gary will not be able to use the services of his left-back at least for another two or three weeks as the latter had just undergone surgery for an appendicitis.
“I’m proud of the team. There was a lot of enthusiasm among them. There was a lot of pressure to play well in front of the home fans, especially against a good side like Selangor (PKNS).
“But this team has proven that they can play under pressure and I think we can take on any team now.
“The confidence and spirit in the team is high and this will only do us good. Also credit to the players from the outside (reserves) as they have been working really hard.
The management too received praises from Gary, who insisted that the way they run the show has been very professional.
“I have been given a free hand in running the show without any interference from the outside. The management has been very supportive of me as well as the players and the team.
“Off the field, they (management) have taken good care of the players’ welfare and well being and the feeling within the team is pretty good, and I’m really proud to be part of this.”
Gary is not forgetting his assistants like Justin (Ganai), Burhan (Ajui) as well as the goalkeeper coach Jasri Jabidin for the support they have given him.