Pahang striker Dickson Nwakaeme (right) is challenged for the ball by Sarawak's Ronny Harun in their Super League match on March 22, 2014. Pahang won 3-1. – Bernama Photo
PETALING JAYA: New Pahang trainer Zainal Abidin Hassan is on a roll.
The 52-year-old former international has made a huge impact with Pahang since replacing Australian Ron Smith in mid-February.
Pahang were ninth in the Super League with six points after five matches when Smith left after deciding not to renew his three-month contract. His last game as coach of Pahang was against Terengganu, which they lost 2-0 on Feb 15.
Pahang have since surged to second spot with 13 points after eight matches – that’s seven points from three matches.
The Elephants beat Armed Forces 4-1 (on March 8), drew 2-2 with Kelantan (March 15) and defeated Sarawak 3-1 on Saturday to move up seven rungs to be tied on goal difference with leaders Terengganu, who have a game in hand.
In fact, Zainal’s first match in charge of the Elephants was an FA Cup quarter-final, second-leg match against Police on Feb 18. Pahang won the game 2-1 to advance 3-2 on aggregate into the semi-finals.
Zainal, who has been in the Pahang FA set-up for 10 years now, said that he was honoured to have been entrusted with the head coach job again.
“Loyalty does pay ... I have served the FA in various positions – manager, coach, assistant manager and assistant coach – with both Pahang and the back-up Shahzan Muda squads. I’ve worked under other coaches too. So, the appointment did not come as a surprise,” said Zainal from Kuantan on Sunday.
“I’ve also tasted success as a coach, helping Pahang win the Super League (2004) and FA Cup (2006). I know the players ... and that makes my work easier. They know what I want and I know what they are capable of.
“The core of the Pahang team is made up of players from the Shahzan Muda Project squad. We have an established side but we still have a long way to go. I hope they continue to work hard to achieve our target – a top-three finish in the Super League – this season.”
Pahang’s next Super League assignment is against PKNS FC at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday.