KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah FA seemed to have made the right choice in naming Justin Ganai as the new head coach for the State Super League side.
While it is rather a little too early to make any assumption, but the much needed victory over Negeri Sembilan on Friday could well be the turning point for the team that has been seen struggling since day one of the league.
Although last night (Friday) there was nothing much new as one could see, but then again, the spirit that Justin brought into the team makes the big difference.
Prior to the Negeri tie, Justin had not even had a training session with the team.
However, Justin, who has done wonders with the junior side in the President’s Cup Challenge prior to his promotion, knows a majority of the players that he fielded in the first team (on Friday) having known most of them long enough to know what their specialties and capabilities are!
The newly found confidence will surely augur well for the team that is fighting for survival in their first year return to the top flight action after five long years in the Premier League.
For the record, that was the team’s first win in eight matches. Prior to this clash, they merely managed to register three draws and succumbed to four defeats that prompted the Sabah FA Team Management Committee to hold an emergency meeting last Wednesday.
The meeting chaired by Datuk Osman Jamal, its Vice President I, saw the FA take a big risk by deciding to remove Gary Phillips from his dual role of head coach cum team manager.
They named Justin as successor and at the same time unanimously appointed its Treasurer Hj Shahriman Abdullah as the new team manager.
One could say that the gamble or rather the brave move by the Sabah FA paid off instantly.
And why not, as the three points gained following the 2-0 victory over a rejuvenated Negeri Sembilan side, helped move them out from the relegation zone albeit by goal difference.
Victory over Pahang this Monday will push them further up.
For the record, Sabah’s last victory was last April 9 – defeating Perak 2-1 at home.
When met after the victory, Justin was on cloud nine, and he has every reason to feel that way.
On Thursday, he also guided his President’s Cup squad to a 2-1 victory over T-Team in his last game on the bench for the junior side.
But Justin is not about to get carried away with this winning start, but instead, he admitted things will only get tougher.
So he insisted they must improve further if they are to survive this test.
The only thing that could deny Justin from brining changes to his new side is time constraints.
Justin admitted that it was not what he had expected from his chargers, but the victory was enough to give him the satisfaction.
“My view was that it was not a good performance. Nevertheless what matters most is we won … that is very important.
“The good thing, however, was that the players showed a never-say-die attitude which pleased me,” he added when met shortly after the match.
Justin also admitted that it was not a good first half.
“Negeri Sembilan looked more compact in the first 45 minutes, but we came back strongly in the second. We were the better side,” said Justin.
He started with some familiar faces in his first team, but included young midfielder Md Rozaimi Abd Rahman.
Justin admitted that his midfield that also comprised teenager Sabri Sahar and Leopold Alfonso Otong playing on the left of midfield while Shahrul Azhar Ture, could not really content Negeri Sembilan in the middle of the park, who has former international midfielder Mohd Shukor Adan, orchestrating their engine room.
But things started to go Sabah’s way when Justin brought in the more experienced Julamri Muhammad for Leopold and Zuraindey Jumai for Rozaimi. Late on, he replaced Sabri with Sumardi Hajalan.
It was only after the first substitution that Sabah scored the opener through Zainizam Marjan, who finished off a cross from Zuraindey.
Then Mohd Farid Ideris scored the second six minutes from regulation time.
“The difference was the substitutions made. I’m not saying the youngsters were not good but we were much better when we had the experienced players.
“I’m sure the young players will improve and become better footballers because they are very talented. We try to give them every opportunity to learn and mature.
Justin said that the focus now is to get the players ready for the next game against Pahang on Monday.
“The team still has to improve and not get carried away by the win. We need to improve more on our combination and play more one-two football.
“But our main obstacle is we don’t have enough time because we are already playing on Monday. We just have to work harder to be at our best and ready for Pahang,” he added.