KOTA KINABALU: The 1-0 defeat at the hands of club side PenangUSM FC on Monday has not only rattled Sabah’s title hope, but it was also a jolt in their bid for promotion.
It was a costly defeat which could see them ending their season on a low yet once again.
This actually was a fine season for them, having gone 12 matches unbeaten prior to the date with USM FC.
Their last defeat was in March where they lost the Borneo derby battle in Kuching, Sarawak–a game they could have won with ease if not for blunt finishing. Chances were aplenty but none found the net–no thanks to their blundering strike force.
There are two more matches left to play, and winning both matches will not even guarantee them promotion, and what more of winning the crown.
Sabah’s defeat has given League leaders KL Felda United FC a huge believe in themselves that the title is theirs to take.
They are currently leading the 12-team standings on 46 points, four ahead of second placed Selangor PKNS and third placed Sabah, who are level on 42 points, but separated by a goal difference.
But mathematically, both PKNS and Sabah can still clinch the crown albeit Felda lose their next two games against Harimau Muda and Armed Forces and the two title pretenders win their remaining ties.
Sabah will face Melaka and KL Pos while PKNS have Shahzan Muda and Harimau Muda to beat.
A defiant Sabah coach and manager Gary Phillips insisted they are still in with a fighting chance. He said six points can still win them the title provided that lady luck is with them.
The Aussie could be right, as miracle does happen sometimes, and furthermore, as the old saying goes football is a funny old game and that anything still can happen.
“I’ve certainly not given up hope on qualification (Super League promotion). We need to win our next two games and rely on results, but as we saw last night (Monday), anything can happen,” said Gary while hoping Harimau Muda to do them a favour by taking some points away from their clash against PKNS in their last game.
“Harimau Muda is a good team, they beat PKNS in the first round and hopefully they can do it again. On our part, we just have to concentrate on what we do and hopefully results will go our way.
“We just have to win our last two games, and hopefully the rest will work out in our favour. It’s a funny thing in football, things can change very quickly.
“Obviously, we need to get three points on Friday and then a tough game away to KL Pos in our last game.
“Felda have two tough games as well. We can still win the championship with six points because Felda might slip up as well. They might be feeling relaxed now that they beat PKNS last week and are four points clear.
“We just have to win our last two games, and see what happens, and never give up.
Gary said that they must take the positives from this.
“We have already qualified for the Malaysia Cup, so we have a rewarding year given our preparation and played no games in our 12-week break, and I only started one week before the competition,” said Gary.
“There is a lot of thing that haven’t helped us but I think we have done really well given where we come from in the last four years.
“And who knows the FAM might decide to promote four teams because they might be two teams that fall out of the league.
“I know Penang players are not being paid so there are a lot of teams out there in trouble. We hope to qualify on merit rather than default but like I said this is football and anything can happen.
“So we just need to win and focus on Melaka and KL Pos away. That’s all we can worry about.
On the defeat against Penang USM FC, Gary said despite the expulsion of striker Bobby Gonzales just after seven minutes they did not do enough to win the game or at least settle for a draw.
However, luck was not in their side to eventually returned home empty handed.
Bobby was shown a red card after only seven minutes into the game for allegedly swearing at the match official.
He was alleged to have said obscene words towards the referee.
“The referee had given a free kick against Bobby for what reason I don’t know and then Bobby just turned around said the obscene word. So the referee interpreted it as he (Bobby) was swearing at him, but Bobby was looking at his front goal with his head to the ground when he said it.
“I thought it was very harsh. There was no word of warning in the first place. Obviously the referee had never played football in his life and doesn’t understand the passion involved in football.
“Or whether it was just something the referee just lost control? He gave a free-kick away which everyone even the local fans could not believe.
“It was very disappointing to have Bobby sent off and then obviously we had to organize things sand we got through to half time 0-0, and in the end we made one mistake.
“Azizon did not have to make a save all night…the one he tried to save went in off the post in about the 80th minute and then we tried to push forward to get the goal in the end. We certainly played okay but we lost our concentration and allowed them to get in at the far post.
“We defended and we tried our best but I think that with the game on Friday and an away game three days later was just too tough to buck up after six weeks with no games … just playing kampung teams.
“I know USM have played university competitions. They went to KL they played Felda, they played KL Pos, they played Selangor so they had good preparation into the game.
“Plus with a couple of injuries, Zainizam (Marjan) wasn’t 100 percent, some of our players also carried injuries and things just didn’t go our way on the night.
“But having said that I think we still did enough to maybe win the game or if not get a point. I was proud of the effort, but sometimes this is football, you have to deal with adversity and hopefully we’re a better team because of it,” Gary concluded.