Kota Kinabalu: The state senior football team successfully lived up to its first challenge when it defeated Sarawak 2-1 in a friendly match at the UMS Stadium here, yesterday.
Sabri Sahar put Sabah in the lead with a strike 20 minutes into the game, but Wong Sai Kong’s spot kick at the half-hour mark put the Crocs back on level terms.
But Sabah soon found the winner through Razlan Oto after connecting brilliantly with Thanaraj Kumarasamy’s corner kick.
The game seemed far from entertaining with little fluidity no thanks to untidy passes from both sides, which unarguably was blamed on the drenched pitch due to this week’s constant rainy weather.
As an outfit that has huge challenges to face in the coming Super League season, Sabah seemed quite a distance away from being the convincing team whom the fans hope would deliver greater results.
But Sabah head coach and manager Gary Phillips was nonetheless happy with the result and more importantly the performance from his players.
“I’m happy with the result and their performance. If we fielded last year’s second team against today’s opponents they would’ve got beaten 10-0 or 11-0.
“But we have a much better squad this time and they proved they were the better team and the game.
“The other keeper never even had to make a save and that says quite well about our defence, which before this never had the chance to work together,” said Gary.
Despite being happy, Gary insisted that his team would be a better outfit come the season opener on January 15.
“There are certain areas we need to work harder on to improve…there’s no doubt about that.
“Some of the players need to work harder too but we still have about six weeks or so before the season starts so that’ll give me some time to iron out the wrinkles before and prepare the boys for the bigger playing field,” said Gary.
The best part he likes about this squad compared to last year’s is that it has much better depth.
The game yesterday was won in the absence of some of Gary’s top players like Farid Ideris, Zainizam Marjan and Azizone Abdul Kadir.
The three, and other senior players, would likely be showcased in Sabah’s next match against the Crocs, which would be at the Likas Stadium at 4pm tomorrow.
Commenting on the performance of some the players, Gary singled out Stanley Bernard, Sivakumar Munusamy and Mohd Saffuan Ibrahim as those who impressed him.
He also particularly mentioned Sabri Sahar, which is unsurprising considering the fact that Sabri has never failed to stay in Gary’s good books since appearing for the team last season.
Gary said there would be opportunities for these and other players (who are in the second team) to make it as a first 11 player.
The team will embark on a more challenging preseason preparation when they travel to Singapore next week.