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Monday, March 31, 2008

SABAH, KL PLUS SHARE THE SPOILS


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah held leaders KL Plus to a two-all draw to share the spoils in a Premier League challenge at the Likas Stadium last night. The result was not what both teams wanted, but in the end it was a fair one considering that they had equal chances at each other’s goalmouths. The drawn game saw the Rhinos lose ground on other teams like second-placed Kuala Muda Naza and Kelantan, who scored victories over Harimau Muda and Armed Forces respectively.

Kuala Muda Naza scored a narrow 2-1 win, while Kelantan edged Armed Forces 3-2. But on the plus side, Sabah managed to claim the fourth spot after Johor Pasir Gudang suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Proton FC in another match at the MBPJ Stadium in Kelana Jaya. KL Plus remain at the top of the standings on 44 points, but now their lead has been cut from four to two points as Kuala Muda Naza piled the pressure on the leaders.

Kelantan maintained their third placing on 38 points, followed by Sabah with 34, while Johor in fifth on 33. Sabah suffered a minor setback prior to the clash as they were forced to rest Englishman Jamie Phoenix due to injury. Lanky defender Mohd Munir Amran also failed to take the field as he had to serve a one-match automatic suspension for yellow card offences. That prompted the Rhinos’ chief coach Drago Mamic to make five changes to the side that defeated Police 3-1 and eventually booked a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals on a 4-3 aggregate last Thursday.

Besides Jamie and Munir, Julamri Muhammad and Eddie Gapil were forced to start from the bench, while Henry Parsi was left out from the starting list. Instead Chow Chee Wing, Azrul Ejati Damsah, Hisamuddin Othman, Zuraindey Jumai and Ahmad Tharmini Saiban were given the responsibilities to do the job. Sabah started off well enough to take the lead in the seventh minute when Salvester Sindeh pounced on a superb cross from Kokhrei Dze Irakli from the left side of the field.

Three minutes later, Kokhrei could have put Sabah 2-0 up in front but unfortunately his 35-metre free-kick hit the woodwork. He tested KL Plus’ Mohd Amirol Jaihan again in the 18th minute. He had already managed to beat the keeper, but this time his lobbed ball went wide. After having a superb first 20 minutes, Sabah found themselves struggling for the rest of the first half as it was the visitors who dominated play. Giant striker Alex Agbo could have put KL Plus on level terms in the 38th minute, but fortunately for Sabah his attempt hit the crossbar. But Alex was not to be denied a goal when in the 44th minute he managed to free himself from Dragic Dalibor to unleash a grounder from inside the box that defeated Sabah custodian Irwan Jamil, that eventually saw the first half end on level terms.

Things look more balanced in the second half, and Sabah squandered a golden opportunity when Kokhrei centred for the unmarked Azrul who was inside the penalty box. But unfortunately, the young Azrul failed to control the ball and it was cleared by a defender.

Then it was KL Plus’ turn to test Irwan Jamil, but fortunately for Sabah, Tercio Nunes Machado’s long drive went wide. In the 69th minute Kokhrei saw his dipping shot from about 25 metres sail over the bar despite the keeper being already beaten. He was presented with another opportunity in the 74th minute when he found space inside the KL Plus penalty box only to find his shot blocked by the keeper. Then Mohd Hairul Nizam Hanif stunned the about 4,000 home fans when he put his side into the lead in the 80th minute by connecting a corner taken by Tercio Nunes.

But their celebrations were shortlived as Dragic made amends by heading home a Chow Chee Wing cross from an ensuing corner three minutes later.

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