Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto’s Sabah FA earned themselves a valuable lifeline in their battle against relegation from the Liga Super Malaysia after winning their Matchweek 9 game 3-2 over Melaka United at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday night. The three points hoisted Sabah out of the drop zone into 9th place at the expense of FELDA United, while at the same time putting a serious dent on Melaka’s aspirations of qualifying to the 2021 AFC Cup.
Melaka knew that a win on Sunday would boost their chances for a 2nd place finish at the conclusion of the 2020 Liga Super season, with seven teams – including Melaka themselves – vying for that runners-up spot and the AFC Cup ticket that comes with it. And everything went according to scenario for the Mousedeers as Uche Agba gave Melaka the lead in the 16th minute. However, Sabah struck back nine minutes afterwards, with Thai-German midfielder Dennis Buschening taking advantage of a scramble in front of the Melaka goal to give the Tembedau their equalizer.
Melaka then reassumed control of the match in the stroke of half-time, after Haiti international Sony Norde finished off an excellent through pass from Safiq Rahim with a curling shot that left Sabah goalkeeper Rozaimie Rohim well-beaten. 2-1 in Melaka’s advantage and that was the scoreline as the referee blew for half-time.
Indonesia national team legend Kurniawan must’ve said something quite inspiring in the half-time team talks as Sabah emerged out of the dressing room a completely different beast and in the 64th minute the Tembedau drew level. Former Chainat Hornbill man Buschening curled in a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty box that stunned Melaka custodian Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, pegging Melaka back into square one as Buschening completed his brace.
Sabah then completed the turnaround in the 72nd minute, after Rodoljub Paunovic had beaten Khairul from the penalty spot. 3-2 Sabah and the scoreline stayed that way all the way into full-time.
The three points meant that Sabah have lifted themselves off the relegation zone and into 9th in the Liga Super table, pushing FELDA into the drop zone at the same time. With last-placed PDRM FA already down and out, the race to avoid the final relegation spot was as tight as the race for 2nd place with only two games remaining in the season, with Sabah, Petaling Jaya City, and FELDA all battling it out to remain in the Liga Super next season. The win also relieved pressure on Kurniawan, who, prior to Sunday’s win, have yet to taste victory with Sabah after the Liga Super’s restart in August.