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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Relegation battle begins for Sabahawks

New Sabah Times

KOTA KINABALU: The Premier League beckons for Sabah following their 1-2 defeat to Johor FC on Tuesday. The failed mission saw them drop into the relegation zone with another three matches left to play this season. They were pipped from the 12th spot by Kedah, who held Selangor to a one-all draw at the Shah Alam Stadium on the same night.

 Both sides are level on 25 points, but Kedah stay ahead by virtue of having a better goal difference (deficit). Sabah has three tough games left, and fortunately two of them will be at home. They take on Terengganu on Saturday, followed by an away tie to Selangor before concluding their season, pitted against Negeri Sembilan at home.

 The only slight advantage for Sabah is that all these three teams, who are currently fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, have nothing to play for other than to make the best possible finish to their season. Against Johor FC, it was a cruel defeat for the fighting Sabah side, as lady luck seemed to shy away from them at a time when they needed it the most.

 Not only had they to play with 10 men for the whole of the second half following the sending off of defender Rosdin Wasli on the stroke of half time, but they also saw flanker Shahrul Azhar Ture limp out of the game following a hard knock with a Johor FC defender, requiring three stitches on his forehead. Sabah is already badly hit by injuries and suspensions, and the latest incidents are making things a lot tougher for the team, as they will certainly lack choice should those who are on the crocked list fail to recover in time for the tie against Terengganu.

 Even against Johor FC, Sabah was playing without any striker with caretaker coach Andrew Majanggim deploying midfielder Brendan Gan as his hitman as all of his strikers were either injured or suspended. Zainizam Marjan and Juffry Omopor were both out due to injury, while youngster Leopold Alfonso Otong was serving his suspension in the game.

 Razlan Oto has just recovered from a broken leg and is still not match-fit while Bobby Gonzales is struggling to find his form. A lapse of concentration as early as in the fifth minute saw Sabah concede the opener, but Sharudin Yakup, who came in for the injured Shahrul in the 20th minute, put Sabah on level terms by connecting a cross from K. Thanaraj in the 26th minute.

 And things went from bad to worse for Sabah when Rosdin was alleged to have blocked the ball with his hand in the 44th minute. Johor FC was not only given a penalty, but Rosdin was given the marching orders, to eventually see Sabah go into the half time break trailing 2-1.

 Despite playing with a man lesser, Sabah still managed to create numerous chances at leveling the scoreline, but unfortunately none of them found the net. Sharudin could have put things on level terms in the 55th minute only to see his one-on-one effort saved by the Johor FC keeper.

 Five minutes later, skipper Hendrik Helmke saw his shot from just outside the box saved by the keeper. Late on, rookie Zul Mansshah Aling saw his header sail slightly out, while Thanaraj had his freekick cleared off the line. “I have no complaints with the commitment shown by the players. They did their best to try to get something out of the game. “Even when we were down to only 10 men, we still managed to create several chances, but unfortunately, we just could not finish them off.

 “If we play with the same kind of attitude and never show any sign of giving up no matter what situation we are in, with a little bit of luck, I’m convinced we will win this battle (relegation),” said Andrew. The match is likely to be Andrew’s last in charge of the team, as the Sabah FA is set to name a new coach David McCreery, who is expected to arrive here tomorrow. And fingers are crossed that the former Northern Ireland international could bring a magic wand with him and help Sabah beat the drop!


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