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Friday, February 10, 2017

Steve plots first home win

New Sabah Times

By FRANCIS XAVIER Francis@newsabahtimes.com.my KOTA KINABALU: Expectations are high for the Sabah Rhinos to nick their first home win when they face off against Armed Forces in a Premier League tie at the Likas Stadium tonight. 

They failed in their first attempt after going down 1-2 to Kuala Lumpur last month, but tonight, the state side will head into the 8.15pm clash high in spirit and confidence following their 3-1 win over Perlis away in their last fixture. The same cannot be said of their opponents, who succumbed to a 1-5 home defeat to JDT II in their previous fixture.

 Even on paper, Sabah Rhinos are the favourites to take home all the three points. Last season, they met three times, including once in the FA Cup challenge, where all the ties went in Sabah Rhinos’ favour. In their first meeting (last season), Sabah Rhinos won 2-1 in the FA Cup second round. Then they registered a 3-1 away win in their league fixture, which was then their first league win after six games into the season, followed by a narrow 1-0 home victory in the second round of their league campaign.

 While it maybe a different ball game this time around, but the Sabah Rhinos should not bottle this chance of collecting all the three points. Deep inside, Sabah Rhinos’ head coach Steve Vilmiaire knows how important a win is for his side. Tonight, the Frenchman is forced to make changes to his winning squad following the suspension of Croatian defender Igor Cerina.

 However, Steve, 32, who is believed to be the youngest head coach in the Premier League, is a little reluctant to reveal his game plan. “The team will be more or less the same with a few changes,” he said, when contacted yesterday. “The idea is to keep the same team who won in Perlis. I need to get my team core (best eleven) because it wasn’t the case so far.

 To a question, Steve refused to give any names on who would fill in the vacuum left by Igor. He was also a little secretive on whether he would start his attacking midfielder Sofiane Choubani, who missed the team’s opening two fixtures due to injury. “About who will play instead of Igor or if Sofiane (Choubani) will start, I can’t reveal my strategy today. But I have my idea, my plan for the game but I can’t talk much about that,” said Steve.

 Regarding the young players, Steve said that probably only Hamran (Peter) will be in the squad. “Of course, the objective will be to get the three points, the first one at home, but we also confirm our good performance against Perlis, and continue to build up the positive cycle. “It’s very difficult to build up and so easy to destroy it.

 That’s why the players must continue to work hard like they are doing, and continue to develop this strong and winning mentality. “If we can do that, the good results will continue to come. And I’m confident and I believe in my players,” Steve said. Meanwhile, team manager Adlane Messelem is calling for an all out support from the local fans. At the same time, he reminded local fans not to add any unnecessary pressure on his side.

 “Our team is young, and I hope they won’t get any unnecessary pressure playing at the Likas Stadium. I would like to say it again, we need everybody’s support,” said Adlane. Armed Forces, who are currently sitting fifth in the standings, will be strengthened by four foreign signings. They will have Ukrainian Ikbol Babakhanov while his countryman Sirojiddin Raxmatullaev together with Korean Bae Beom-Geun will orchestrate the engine room, with another Ukrainian Pavel Smolyachenko, who has two goals under his belt thus far, spearheading the attack.

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