JOHOR BARU: Sabah coach Justin Ganai has identified a “major problem” that could become his team's undoing in the M-League this year – there is a “lack of depth” on the bench.
This was clearly evident in the recently concluded quadrangular involving Sabah, Sarawak and two Indonesian clubs, Medan and Parseban of Banjarmasin.
Sarawak walked away with the Datuk Anifah Aman trophy after a scoreless draw with Sabah in their final match.
The Crocs were declared champions on superior goal difference after beating Medan 6-1 and Parseban 4-0.
Sabah could only manage 4-0 wins over the Indonesian clubs.
“I can see a lot of problems. The newcomers who have been drafted into the squad for the new season are not ready for Premier I action just yet,” said Justin from Kota Kinabalu.
“They are still raw and have a long way to go. We have retained most of the players from last year's team but there is no depth on the bench. If there are injuries or suspensions to the seniors, the youngsters will have a tough time on the field.
“With the league run on a tight schedule, you are bound to run into problems. This is a worrying factor for me.”
Against Sarawak for example, Sabah were forced to play without six first-team players - international Zainizam Marjan, Josiah Seton, L. Suresh, Rosdin Wasli, Richard Ribu, all of whom were injured and Shahril Arsat, who was suspended.
Among the newcomers thrown in the fray were President's Cup strikers Nizamuddin Abdul Hamid and Zaykiel Leong, midfielders Joy Ryan Ginduk and Zuraindey Jumai and flankback Sanjos Sundawat.
Sabah's first Premier I match will be against bitter rivals Sarawak.
The East Malaysian derby will be played in Kuching on Feb 15.
Malaysia Cup champions Selangor and FA Cup champions Penang will kick off the season with the Charity Shield match at the State Stadium in Batu Kawan on Feb 9.
Meanwhile, Sarawak coach Jalil Ramli is hoping his team's success in winning the Datuk Anifah Trophy will rub off when the M-League starts.
“Of course, it was just a friendly quadragular but it serves as an inspiration to the team. It helped me to more or less identify my first team,” said Jalil on his return to Kuching with the team.
While his Sabah counterpart was lamenting about his rookies, Jalil was more than happy with the way his newcomers stood up in Kota Kinabalu.
Jalil named right flankback Hasdi Ramli, leftback Hussein Razak and striker Kamri Hamlet as those who had played well in the quadrangular.