KOTA KINABALU: Things have been rosy of late for Sabah coach and manager Gary Phillips and he finally believes that he has a squad that are capable of adding a new chapter in the Sabah football history book.
The way things are going right now, the very least they could do is to gain Super League promotion.
Early in the season, Gary never gave it a thought of the team going for the two automatic promotion slots, what more challenging for the crown.
Gary was only with the team for two weeks or even lesser prior to the start of the season last January, and what he believed then was that he needed at least two years to guide the team to the Super League, before insisting a top-six finish was the target for his rather young squad.
But now Gary has to bow to the proven fact, that he does have a decent side who are looking good not only to claim one of the two promotion slots, but also to win the Premier League title, which will be the first time for Sabah, if its turn into a reality, as Sabah have never won it before.
The last time Sabah got promoted following their demotion in the early 2000s, was when they finished second.
But then, it was a short stop for Sabah, as they were only in the lower division for one season, unlike now, where they are currently featuring in the Premier League for a record fifth season.
With only six matches left to play, expectations are now high on Sabah ending their season on a high note that all Sabahans could be proud of.
They are currently riding high, and are on a nine-match unbeaten run of which eight of those matches ended in victory and one a draw.
And Gary believes that they can go all the way and win their remaining matches.
“I’m pretty excited about the position we are in now considering where we came from and the preparations that we made during the pre-season.
“The last three games have been magnificent for the team,” Gary said.
“The team have done well and there are lots of positives in the squad, and they have the feeling that they are getting stronger and stronger each day.
“The team continue to create surprises and are progressing well too. But football is a funny game, and we must stay positive and focused.
But what really gives Gary the satisfaction is taking 10 points out of a possible 12 from the top four sides.
He admitted that it was not easy to take on the top sides consecutively. But they did that with flying colours dropping a mere two points, and that was against the league leaders KL Felda United in an away battle.
They won their next three games up against Selangor PKNS (2-0 home), Harimau Muda (1-0 away) and Armed Forces (2-1).
“I was talking to Scott (Ollerenshaw) prior to our games against Felda, PKNS, Harimau Muda and Armed Forces. I said to him to take six points from those games is acceptable, seven points will be good.
“But we managed to grab 10 points, which is magnificent, and on top of that we conceded just one goal against the top four teams and the outcome of the games against the top sides gives us a lot of confidence.
“We now have enough attacking quality to create and score goals, and we know if we defend well, our chances of getting the right results will be brighter, and we believe in that.
“We have also put a lot of effort in our training and our matches. We also did a lot of work on the role of our defenders.
“Julamri (Muhammad) has improved by a mile since playing his new role as the left back, and Reithuddin (Ag Emran) is a quality defender while Rosdin (Wasli) has been magnificent at the back.
“But Azizon has given the team lots of confidence since he joined. No doubt the team played with less confidence with Harold (John).
“His (Azizon) presence is giving the opponents another problem. One mistake he (Azizon) made was against Armed Forces or else we could have kept a clean slate against the top four teams.
“The backline has been consistent all year, and their combination has improved and their understanding with each other is also getting better and better.
And Gary said the basic of a successful football club is to have a strong defence before adding “as a team we defend better and it was not just about the backline.”
On paper, Sabah have a slight advantage over their rivals having to face teams in the bottom half of the standings, while Felda on the other hand will play their final three league games up against PKNS, Harimau Muda and Armed Forces.
Sabah’s remaining fixtures are up against Shahzan Muda (home May 24), Johor MP Muar (May 28 away).
After the two clashes, Sabah will be taking a break, three days earlier than most of the teams who have games on May 31.
Sabah were supposed to take on Sarawak on the date, but due to Sabah celebrating the Kaamatan festival and Sarawak the Gawai Dayak, the match has been postponed to July 9 where the two Borneo outfits will resume their challenge three days earlier than the rest.
For the record, Felda are leading the standings on 38 points, followed by Sabah 35 and Selangor PKNS 32, while Armed Forces are on 30. Harimau Muda are in fifth on 28 while Sarawak 24.