KOTA KINABALU: Sabah played what was seen as one of their best ever performances in recent times in the 1-0 victory over Kedah on Saturday, and if this continues, then the rest of their Malaysian Super League rivals should better beware!
Sabah showed what they are capable of after seeing off Kedah, who were no less impressive in a match that could have gone either way, although the home side looked the better side.
If the winning trend continues it can lure back the fans to the Likas Stadium (remember the Likas Roar?). Likas Stadium not too long ago was dubbed a fortress to many visiting teams and to maintain that tag now is to have a continuity like that of Saturday night.
With this then they can be serious contenders for the MSL crown.
During the Kedah match the State’s eleven, arguably, hardly had any faults. Their commitment, dedication and spirit were excellent. Their efforts were never in question while teamwork was excellent, but of course it can still be improved, given time!
The only worrying factor or the big question mark now is whether they can maintain that kind of show. And if it’s not the case then their yo-yo performance of the past will be back to haunt them.
But really for this game, Gary Phillips could not find a single reason not to be satisfied with his charges or for the home win.
The Sabah coach and manager insisted that his side could have played much better than that if not for the slippery and heavy pitch due to a downpour prior to the game.
“I’m happy with the team that played under such a condition and hopefully the win will be a lift for them and their confidence for their next match and hope that crowd will be back to the Stadium,” said Gary, who successfully guided the team to MSL promotion in his first season in charged last season.
Zainizam Marjan’s form of late prompted Gary to select the playmaker ahead of Stanley Bernard Stephen, who started in the first two games.
“It is not a matter of rotation but who is in the best form at the right moment. Zainizam did not have a good pre-season, but he seemed to have regained his form in training lately.
“He is a clever and outstanding player, and if he continues with the form, he will help the team a lot,” said Gary, while singing the praises on the rest of his charges.
The coach is also aware that things will get a lot tougher now, especially after seeing his squad ‘robbed’ of M. Sivakumar who suffered a broken leg after a horrific tackle.
The lanky utility player, who played in the right-back in the game against Kedah created Mohd Farid Ideris’ solitary goal of the night in the 26th minutes.
The Kulai-born Siva, Sabah’s pre-season signing, limped out of the game on the 77th minute after a tackle by Kedah’s Mohd Faizal Abu Bakar, who was eventually sent off for a second bookable offence. He was earlier shown a yellow before the second incident.
Gary said Siva has a broken tibia and fibula on his right leg which could prematurely end his season.
“We are traumatised and saddened after what happened to Siva. At first look, it was two players going for the ball, but it was a hard challenge that broke someone’s leg and the red card shows the seriousness of the incident.
“He was looking forward to a match against his former club (Johor FC) next and he will totally be dejected now that he will not be part of our squad.
“The team is with him, and he has to be strong because it is not the only injury that he has to deal with but also the mental scar as well.
“I was told it was a clean break (on tibia and fibula) so it may heal sooner. Siva is still young and hopefully we can get him back for the pre season for the next campaign.
For the record, Siva is the second player on the long term casualty list after midfielder Mohd Safuan Ibrahim who suffered a serious knee injury in the build up to the new season.
“It is a blow to the team with two players out for a long time, but at the same time, it presents a chance to others to get into the first team such as Rosdin (Wasli), Gasili Pengalot, and Jeremy Danker.
It is up to them to pull their socks up and show it in training to fight for a place in the squad,” said Gary while dedicating the victory to Siva.
The victory is not enough to move Sabah from the bottom half of the 14-team standings, as they stay in 10th placed on four points, but are only three points adrift of leaders Kelantan, who lead the pack on seven after three matches into the season.
On Tuesday Sabah take on Johor FC at the Likas Stadium.