After a one-month break, the S.League season is finally back on track with Round 19 kicking off tonight. FFT's Kenneth Tan tries to pick out the key points from each fixture…
Is everything well with the Protectors?
Tanjong Pagar United vs Home United, Wednesday 30 July
It seems like a turbulent time to be at Home United right now. First came the sacking of Sevki Sha’ban, before coach Lee Lim Saeng was rumoured to have resigned from his post last Friday. No official word on Lee’s future has been given since then, and it appears the South Korean coach is still expected to patrol on the touchline come match day.
On the pitch, things have not exactly gone their way too. After a six-game unbeaten run which saw them trump the likes of title rivals Warriors FC and Brunei DPMM, they hit a rut with a three-game winless streak where they dropped points to lower-ranked teams like Balestier Khalsa and Woodlands Wellington. That poor run of form saw them drop to sixth position, seven points off the pace.
It is therefore imperative that they get back to winning ways and fast. However, they will face stern opposition in Tanjong Pagar, who just had a superb run to the League Cup final. Overcoming the resilient Jaguars may just be the first step to reviving the Protectors' title bid.
Can the Eagles keep the streak going at JBS?
Geylang International vs Balestier Khalsa, Thursday 31 July
Five wins and two draws in all competitions – that is the excellent record which Geylang International has at the Jalan Besar Stadium this season so far. Those results are not too shabby at all, considering the fact they have come against the likes of Tampines Rovers, DPMM and Hougang United.
With their Bedok home ground still undergoing renovation work, the Eagles will play this week’s home fixture against Balestier at JBS yet again. This is perhaps a good omen as they also managed to beat the Tigers there in the Singapore Cup quarter-final second leg (albeit bowing out on penalties).
While they no longer have a chance to achieve their top-six aspirations, their recent brave run to the League Cup semis should provide them the impetus to finish as high as they can.
Meanwhile in the other camp, Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic has refused to write off his team’s chances of finishing inside the top six despite being eight points off the pace. However the absence of playmaker Park Kang-Jin through suspension may well prove to be the difference in this encounter.
Unhappy reunion for Salim yet again?
Woodlands Wellington vs Tampines Rovers, Thursday 31 July
It wasn’t the happiest of reunions for Salim Moin when these two sides clashed earlier in the season. In charge of defending champions Tampines back then, his side suffered a shock 2-1 loss to his former side Woodlands in a televised game.
Fast forward four months later, it will be yet another catching-up affair with an old club for him – just on opposite sides. The 52-year-old resigned from the Stags hotseat a week after that game and duly returned to coach the Rams in mid-June.
This time around, there will be little pressure for Salim with Woodlands clearly the underdogs in this encounter. His successor at Tampines, Rafi Ali, has done well to steady the ship, with just one defeat in his nine league games in charge as well as leading them to the League Cup Plate title. They are now just three points off leaders DPMM and well poised to challenge for their fourth successive league title.
Salim has a couple of impressive results since his Rams return, upsetting the Warriors and holding Home to a draw. It will take something special to do it again against a rejuvenated Tampines.
Can the Warriors put their League Cup saga behind them?
Warriors FC vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Friday 1 August
The League Cup was supposed to provide a good opportunity for a rejuvenated club like Warriors FC to return to their trophy-winning ways. While Alex Weaver eventually failed to help the club attain that objective, he did not expect what was coming.
The Englishmen draw flak for his strategy to rest several key players for their second group game, prompting key figures in the football fraternity to debate the question of fair play. Eventually they bowed out of the competition to Tanjong Pagar in the last eight and will have to focus their attentions back on the league.
Unlike title rivals DPMM, Tampines and Home who are all in the Singapore Cup semis, the S.League is the only competition which the Warriors can still win this season. Being just four points behind DPMM, they are still very in much in the title race.
However to do so, they will need to put in a much more consistent run of form – a three-game winless streak just before the League Cup break saw them drop off the pace. With further six-pointers against Home and Tampines coming up, picking up three points against Albirex in this televised game is a must.
Can Aide’s boys showcase benefits of Austrian training trip?
Courts Young Lions vs Harimau Muda, Sunday 3 August
17 members of the Young Lions squad were part of the national contingent (both senior team and Under-23s) which went on a 16-day training tour to Austria where they played against the likes of Czech top division side FK Pribram and Borussia Dortmund Under-23s. The players trained in top-class training facilities and national coach Bernd Stange had expressed his delight in seeing how these boys developed over the tour.
Given the huge amount of money invested on such luxurious overseas training tours, it will be interesting to see how they translate into performances and results back in the bread and butter S.League competition.
Before the season started, the Young Lions also went a month-long training trip to Turkey where they played against the likes of the Denmark Under-21 and Azerbaijan Under-21 sides. However it took all of eight games to pick up their first win of the season, prompting local football fans to call the tour ‘a waste of money’.
Thus the Young Lions have it all to prove on the pitch, starting with this game against their Malaysian counterparts on Sunday night.
Will it be third time lucky for the Cheetahs?
Brunei DPMM vs Hougang United, Sunday 3 August
Two games played, two narrow defeats – it’s a case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for Hougang United whenever they take on DPMM this season.
Dominating the league encounter at Hougang back in April, they failed to put their chances away as they eventually fell to a 77th-minute Azwan Ali goal. Similarly, profligacy in front of goal cost them again in the League Cup encounter once again as the Bruneians picked up a slender 3-2 victory.
While they came close the first couple of times, it looks even harder this time as they aim to topple DPMM. The Wasps have been impressive at home, picking up a number of big wins and only losing twice to fellow title rivals. Buoyed by their recent League Cup triumph, they now approach the title race with the ‘feel-good’ factor at a sky-high peak.
However with that said, the Cheetahs do not have much to fear. Putting together an impressive eight-match unbeaten run, they have gone from top-six hopefuls to possible title challengers. Just six points behind DPMM right now, this will be a real test of their title credentials.
With DPMM dropping points against Home and Geylang in their last two home games, don't bet against Amin Nasir’s men pulling this off.