Zainal Abidin Hassan is still optimistic that his struggling Penang side can escape relegation for the second consecutive Malaysia Super League (MSL) season.
The Panthers slipped to their eighth league defeat of 2017 with a 2-1 loss to Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) at Batu Kawan Stadium on Wednesday night, and still have only one MSL win to their name.
First half goals from Gonzalo Cabrera and Azamuddin Akil proved enough for the Southern Tigers to come away with the points in a game that should have produced more resistance from the home side.
But Zainal took the glass half-full approach, extracting whatever positives he could from a defeat that leaves Penang five points adrift of safety.
"Playing without our three imports dented our performance a little," Zainal said.
"But I am beginning to see improvement. We worked hard to close them down, and in the second half we improved defensively. It was our mistake that we gave away two easy goals. We came back strongly at the end of the first half, but couldn't fashion anymore chances to score."
Penang have only 11 more games to preserve their MSL status, beginning with a home match against Felda United on May 7. They travel to play Kelantan two weeks later before the league takes a five-week break for Ramadan.
2017 SUPER LEAGUE 26TH APRIL 2017 Full Time PULAU PINANG 1-2 JDT 39' Rafiuddin Rodin (pen) 5' Gonzalo Cabrera 24' Azammuddin Akil Hidup Johor Demi Johor #officialJDT #JDT #HarimauSelatan #SouthernTigers #PermataSelatan #JewelOfTheSouth
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JDT coach Benjamin Mora, meanwhile, hailed another priceless victory for his side which takes them five points clear at the MSL summit, after Pahang and Kedah dropped points with draws against Felda and Perak respectively.
The Mexican was especially pleased with the spirit and determination of his players, who were playing their eighth match in the month of April.
"We controlled the game from the beginning. We managed to take another three points and it is important to be at the top. My players have played a lot of matches, so we are going to rest, recover and focus for the next match," Mora said.
"Pahang and Kedah also dropped points so it is a double joy for us."
JDT are in action next Wednesday against Magwe, of Myanmar, in a must-win AFC Cup group F encounter.
The Southern Tigers are second in the group, behind Global FC of the Philippines.
Even victory would not guarantee them a knockout berth, with only the group winners slated to qualify.
But JDT could qualify if they rack up a big scoreline against the Myanmar side, which would secure their progression as the best ASEAN zone runner up.