PETALING JAYA: Sabah are riding high at the second spot in the Super League but the journey towards that spot took lots of fight and character.
Coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee says compared to sides like Terengganu, Selangor and Kedah, they did not have a team with depth to start with but new faces have stepped up to form a stronger core as the season progressed.
“At the beginning of the season, we had at least 13 core players, but now we have 17-18 players whom we can rely on,” said Kim Swee.
“We are second because of their ability to grind out results in every game.”
And he wants that vibe to continue when they take on Kedah in Alor Setar tomorrow.
“It’s good to be consistent, but the league is far from over. I want them to keep the momentum going, stay disciplined in everything they do and not to take anything for granted,” said Kim Swee, known for his stern personality on the field.
Their last 15 games had been challenging.
“We had to come back, fight for goals, and always fight until the end to preserve our lead. That is why we are here now,” said Kim Swee.
“Finishing top three is a dream, and qualifying to the Asian stage will be even better. So every game will be important now.”
He credited a few players for performing.
“Alto Linus didn’t play the first half of the season and only featured in the first and second round of the FA Cup. Alto, now 35, played in our last three games and got two assists. He is a role model for the local players,” said Kim Swee.
“Amri Yahyah, already 41, always delivers as a starter or super sub.
“Then youngsters like Abd Hanafie Tokyo and Gerald Gadit have done well too.
“These players didn’t complain when they didn’t get regular minutes. When called upon, they gave their all. I am happy.”
The Rhinos are earmarked as favourites to clip the wings of the Canaries as they have won four games in a row in the league, while Kedah are reeling from their exit in the AFC Cup after losing to PSM Makassar 1-2 in the round of 16.
Before flying to Bali, they lost to Pahang 0-2 at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan on Aug 1 and Kuala Lumpur 1-2 on July 21 at the Cheras Football Stadium.
But Kim Swee said Kedah’s form would not factor in the game.
“They have nothing to lose now as they want to be in a respectable position in the league and aim for the Malaysia Cup. We will be ready.”