Sarawak face up to relegation, hoping for quick return to MSL
Head coach Pengiran Bala believes relegated Sarawak are filled with enough promising players to ensure a rapid return to the Malaysia Super League (MSL).
The Crocs exited the top flight on Saturday after they could manage only a 0-0 draw against T-Team.
It was a result that would have been good enough to keep them in the MSL until Kelantan scored three goals in the last 16 minutes to come from behind to win 3-1 at Melaka United.
Sarawak finished their league campaign in 11th spot, one point behind Kelantan, bringing to an end of their four-year stay in the top flight.
"We have many promising players in Sarawak who will beef up the squad for next season," Pengiran told Utusan Borneo.
"I am positive we will return stronger next year, and make a swift return to the Premier League. Against T-Team, we did everything we could to get a goal, but their goalkeeper was in top form."
Despite the disappointment, many of the fans who turned up for Saturday's match stayed on to serenade the players with the state anthem, long after the final whistle.
Despite their supporters' loyalty, Sarawak were riddled with on-and-off-field woes this season.
As they secured only five league wins in 2017, the Crocs were bogged down by erratic displays from some of their mid-season signings.
To add to their woes, former head coach David Usop stepped aside in July after coming under pressure to deliver results.
When Pengiran took over, he was left to deal with players whose confidence was in tatters.
The Crocs' management had also struggled to fulfill the club licensing criteria set by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).
If Pengiran's side need any motivation for an immediate return to the MSL, they only need to look back to 2013 when they last featured in Malaysia's second tier.
After being relegated from the MSL in 2012, Sarawak set the Premier League alight to win the title with an unbeaten record, under coach Robert Alberts.
In addition to winning 17 of their 21 league matches, they also reached the semifinals of the 2013 Malaysia Cup.
While emulating that feat would be a tall order for the new campaign, making it back to the top division is a realistic target.
Pengiran is ready to coach the team again if given the chance, with the management expected to make a decision on his future in the coming weeks.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.