Kota Kinabalu: Local football supporters will get their first look at the newly promoted Sabah team when Gary Phillips’ boys take on Kedah in their first home Super League match at the Likas Stadium here, tonight.
Sabah has had a tough beginning to this new season, having to clash with a mighty Terengganu side in their opening away match followed by another away game against Kuala Lumpur.
And with only one point taken from the possible six, Gary knows the team will have to shift its gear into overdrive (despite holding the home ground advantage) to try and earn their first victory from this encounter with Kedah.
“We’ve played against them (Kedah) in last season’s Malaysia Cup and we know what they are capable of. They are a young side that likes to play good football.
“But we know what to expect. If we remain composed we too can play good football…there’s plenty of talent on our side.
“If our boys can match the effort they put in against Terengganu and KL then things will have a good chance of turning out brightly for us.
“We can make it difficult for them (Kedah),” said Gary, when met during the team’s light training session at the Kota Kinabalu Sports Complex here, yesterday.
As always, Gary will focus efforts on fortifying the defence line, which he attributed as the backbone for the team.
A disciplined and compact back four is what Gary wants to see on the field.
This will allow his forward players to focus on attacking without concerns of conceding looming over their heads.
Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, who is at the helm of the Sabah Football Association, recently called on his FA officials to do what is necessary to ensure success is met with again this season.
Changes have been made to various aspects of the FA to help further launch the state team to greater success.
Musa has even called on the home fans to turn up in the stands to support the team with full force.
He also hoped to see improvement in players’ discipline especially after the long five-year wait for Sabah’s return to the top flight in M-League action.
“Players’ discipline must improve, they must listen to the coach and do as they are instructed,” said Musa during the launching of the Sabah FA’s official fan club, not too long ago.
He said: “If other states can enjoy success in football then why not Sabah?”
The team will want to put on a convincing show tonight as thousands of fans will be watching including Musa himself, along with several other cabinet members and public figures.
“We need to keep improving with each game we play, especially when we’re playing at home.
“The fans will want to see good football and so the players must be fully committed. They must give their 100 percent best when they take to the field tomorrow.
“Because all we need really is just one goal to win the game.
If the players wear their jerseys with pride and give everything they have, I’m sure they can get the goal and win the match,” said Gary.
Meanwhile, when asked whether he would play Leopold Alfonso Otong in tonight’s match, Gary said he has not made a decision yet on the matter.
“I think he is a vary talented player. He would’ve been in my first 11 list if not for what happened. But as it is I have the responsibility to think carefully whether to let him play or not.
“I have to make sure he is mentally ready. If he comes on and gets booed by the fans for a poor performance then that might have a psychological impact on him which may take him time to recover from.
“But like I said he is a talented player and I would love to have him back on the fields with us,’ said Gary.
Sabah’s preparation into this fixture has not been ideal. Recent weather patterns have caused the team to sometimes train indoors due to rain, which have affected the conditions on their training ground.
The players, however, have had plenty of time to rest since playing the two games against Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur. They will be fresh for tonight’s match but will have a tighter schedule ahead with three games to play next week.