KUCHING: Unfit Penang have raised doubts over their ability to gain an automatic berth in next year's Super League.
Following a 0-2 defeat by Sarawak in a Premier I match at the Sarawak Stadium here on Saturday night, team manager Dr Ashaari Mohamad admitted that Penang needed to improve on their fitness level if they were to finish among the top six in the 13-team league to qualify for the eight-team Super League.
“We went down without a fight. I am glad that we did not lose by a bigger margin. The players simply looked tired,” said Ashaari.
“The team could not cope with the fast pace set by Sarawak. We have to buck up to have a chance to finish in the top bracket.”
Penang will be at home to Kelantan on Friday but they have not chalked up good results at Batu Kawan since beating Selangor 1-0 in the season-opening Charity Shield match.
Coach Irfan Bakti blamed the midfield, led by R. Suresh Kumar, for the defeat by Sarawak.
“We collapsed in midfield and paid the price,” said Irfan.
The Penang attack was also blunt with Gustavo Romero, Hasmawi Hassan and Wan Rohaimi Wan Ismail hardly posing a threat to the Sarawak backline, marshalled by Ghanaian Emmanuel Sarpong.
With the defeat, Penang dropped from third to seventh place. Sarawak, who will be away to Selangor on Saturday, regained third place on better goal difference than Perlis.
The performance of Sarawak goalkeeper Sazali Wahid warmed the heart of coach Jalil Ramli. The new signing made up for his nervous debut in the 1-3 defeat by Johor FC last Tuesday with a confident showing in front of the home fans.