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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rhinos make perfect start

Kota Kinabalu: The Rhinos made a perfect start to the new campaign when they defeated newcomers SDM Kepala Batas, Penang, 2-0 in their opening fixture at the Likas Stadium, here, Friday night.

Two second-half goals from midfielders Leopold Alfonso Otong and Redzuan Khan Aman delivered Sabah the three points in the season's Premier League battle.

The first goal was netted three minutes after the first whistle when Otong picked up a poor goal-line clearance from one of the SDM Kepala Batas' player, to put the Rhinos into the lead.

A wet and slippery pitch contributed to the opportunity that fell to him when Penang keeper Khairul Nizam Hassan failed to hold the ball from an earlier attempt by him, resulting in a fumble in front of goal.

The other goal, which came 40 minutes later, sealed the win for the Rhinos. A blistering shot off the boot of 29-year-old Redzuan from outside the box had the Penang keeper stretched but the perfectly aimed shot eluded the save and ends up in the bottom left hand corner of the net.

Sabah team's new 'player to watch', donning the number six, striker Alto Jinus, from Keningau, would have been the first to score had his shot not bounce off the near side of the left post earlier in the first half.

Later he missed another opportunity in the 57th minute with a shot from outside the box.

Several missed opportunities by Rhino captain Zainizam Marjan, including one in the dying minutes of the first half, also would have made the score-line more interesting.

The game was plagued with fitness problems from several players from both teams who seemed to suffer from cramps.

Sabah's number seven, Azrul Ejati, who played upfront alongside Alto and Zainizam, was the first to be stretched off the field. He was replaced by Vun Kit Ming, after 28 minutes of play.

Several players throughout the match were also substituted for similar reasons.

Although the Rhinos dominated the match, SDM Kepala Batas didn't seem all hopeless, as they too had several missed opportunities.

A strike by their number 23 player, Mohd Hasni Hakim Hamid, in the 32nd minute was destined to hit the top right corner had it not been for the quick reaction from keeper Irwan Jamil who safely tipped the ball over.

An earlier chance, which landed the ball at the feet of Wan Mohd Enzro Wan Nor, through poor defending, almost gifted Penang with a goal, but Wan failed to control the ball as it floated above the cross bar.

Overall, the game was played well from both sides, with little use for referee Azizi Adnan to take out his cards.

Only one yellow card was shown, which was to Redzuan, who knocked down a player in the 53rd minute.

Although the performances of both teams were far from entertaining, a win for the Rhinos in their opening game nonetheless gives somewhat of an early hope to the Sabah faithful that better football will arrive this season to rescue them from being stuck in the second tier of Malaysian football.

The new-look Sabah team, which features many new faces following the departure of nearly half of last season's squad, looked certain to win the game right from the beginning as they controlled the game with more possession of the ball.

The Rhinos have a tougher task of taking on a more experienced rival when they go against Proton FC, Selangor in their away fixture on Monday.

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