PENANG football coach Ashley Westwood has acknowledged it is near impossible for his team to be fully ready when the 2017 Malaysian football league season begins this weekend.
He admitted the Panthers were still a ‘work in progress’ after watching his charges lose 1-0 to visiting Cambodian top division clubside Nagaworld FC.
The international friendly game was played at the City Stadium in Penang on Friday.
The Englishman, who replaced Croatian Nenad Bacina as Penang coach, felt his team performance was ‘okay’, especially in the second half.
“I will not point the finger at any player for the defeat because everyone did what he was asked to do on the pitch.
“There have been lots of changes in the team so the players need time to adapt.
“The first game is just a week away, and I feel we will not be fully ready at that time,” said Westwood, who was in charge of the 2016 AFC Cup finalists Bengaluru FC of India last year.
The Panthers open their Super League campaign in an away match against Selangor at the Selayang Stadium on Saturday.
In the match against Nagaworld FC, Penang fell behind in the 15th minute when a lapse of concentration in defence saw Nagaworld’s Brazilian forward Diego Gama de Oliviera scoring from close range.
The home side struggled to make much headway for the remainder of the first half, with lone striker Nigel Dabinyaba bereft of supply from his teammates.
The Papua New Guinea international striker muffed Penang’s best chance of the match in the 19th minute.
He ran onto a defence-splitting pass from Faizat Ghazli but fired wide with Nagaworld’s goalkeeper Samrith Sieha at his mercy.
Dabinyaba, who was on target in both of Penang’s earlier friendlies against Felcra FC and Police, hobbled off with a hamstring injury just before half-time.
Penang only came alive in the second half when Westwood brought on 2016 FIFA Puskas Award winner Mohd Faiz Subri and national Under-22 striker Mohd Jafri Chew to add more bite up front.
The Panthers dominated play, with Faiz at the heart of most of the team’s attacking moves.
First, he forced Samrith to make an acrobatic save with a stinging shot from an acute angle in the 51st minute.
Fifteen minutes later, he fired a grounder just wide of the upright.
With five minutes left on the clock, Faiz also had an appeal for a penalty turned down after he was brought down in the box.
Westwood, a former Manchester United trainee, pointed out the lack of sharpness in attack as Penang’s main weakness.
Despite having the major possession of the ball against Nagaworld, the players failed to create many scoring chances.
“The team is shaping up well but there are some bits and pieces that we need to work on.
“There was good team spirit but I felt the players didn’t do enough in the final third of the pitch.
“We need to work on our finishing,” he said.
Westwood said the injured Dabinyaba would be doubtful against Selangor.
He is expected to deploy either Jafri or Faiz as the main striker if Dabinyaba is ruled out for the opening game.
Penang are playing their second season in the top flight after narrowly missing out on relegation on the final day of last season.