6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can Hougang pull off another upset without key players?

We return to S.League action this week as FourFourTwo Singapore's Kenneth Tan examines in the key issues in Round 3 ..  

Can the Cheetahs continue to impress?

Hougang United vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Wednesday 12 March

Things had looked gloomy in pre-season for Hougang United, considering the departures of key players like Tom Beattie and Mamadou Diallo. There were question marks over whether such a bare squad could last the season and if new signings would perform up to mark.

After two games played, Cheetahs fans can breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now.  Amin Nasir’s new-look squad has proved capable of mounting a serious bid to finish in the top half of the table so far. Playing against two sides (Woodlands Wellington and Tanjong Pagar United) which finished in the top six last season, the north-eastern club showed no signs of being cowed and took the game to the opposition both times.

On Wednesday night, they will face yet another tough challenger in a title-chasing Albirex Niigata (Singapore) side. Despite a much-changed squad this season, the White Swans have shown in the last game against Harimau Muda that they can add substance to their free-flowing style. If the Cheetahs can upstage the Japanese side, maybe their dreams of finishing in the top half will not be that far-fetched afterall.

One potential stumbling block for the gutsy hosts though is the unavailibility of Croatian centre-back pairing Igor Cerina and Durica Zuparic. Zuparic limped off during their last match, but it is perhaps the loss of two-goal hero Cerina that will be felt keenly by Hougang.

Will the Warriors finally convince?

Warriors FC vs Harimau Muda, Wednesday 12 March  

Four points from two games played – the verdict is still very much out on the Warriors right now.

There were glimpses of their new-found attacking qualities in the season-opening win against Geylang International, and perhaps they should have won by a bigger margin. It was a similar situation once again against Brunei DPMM as they troubled opposition keeper Wardun Yussof to a number of saves in the first half, but eventually fell to two moments of class by the home side.

The Warriors have an excellent opportunity this week to show what they are truly capable of when they take on the visiting Young Tigers. If the attacking talents of Miroslav Pejic, Nicolas Velez and Hafiz Rahim can work in tandem, then we could perhaps see them notching a big win to finally get their season going.

Can Aide’s boys get their first points?

Courts Young Lions vs Woodlands Wellington, Thursday 13 March

It was a painful 2013 season for fans of the Young Lions as they took all of 13 games to gain their first point, and they will definitely hope there is no repeat of that scenario this year.

Much to their credit, Aide Iskandar’s side learnt from their lessons in the demoralising four-goal thrashing by Balestier Khalsa and put up a much improved performance the  against defending champions Tampines Rovers. That battling display will perhaps have given the team a bit more confidence in trying to get some points in their upcoming matches.

This week's home clash against Woodlands presents a tempting opportunity. The Rams are still trying to find their feet under new coach Darren Stewart and had to fight back to salvage a point in each of two games played thus far. If Sherif El-Masri, Jordan Webb and their fellow attackers can turn on the style, they could well give the Rams a fight for their money.

Which side will be true title challengers?

Balestier Khalsa vs Tanjong Pagar United, Thursday 13 March

Both sides have talked up their title-winning ambitions during pre-season, thus there should be much disappointment in both camps after their respective results in Round 2.

After an enterprising display in the four-goal thrashing of Young Lions in their season-opener, Balestier laboured to a draw against Woodlands in a televised clash. Meanwhile Tanjong Pagar was stung by the Cheetahs at home after an opening win against Harimau Muda. For two teams gunning for the title, these dropped points and missed opportunities are just not good enough.

The Tigers and the Jaguars will therefore need little psyching up ahead of this clash at Toa Payoh Stadium. Both sides employ the services of marquee men up front in Goran Ljubojevic and Monsef Zerka - it will be intriguing to see if either can help their side gain the upper hand in Round 3.

Will Kean’s honeymoon start continue?

Home United vs Brunei DPMM, Friday 14 March

So far so good for Steve Kean as his DPMM side sit pretty at the top of the S.League table, with maximum points after two rounds.

However, the former Blackburn Rovers manager should face the toughest test of his short stint so far in this Friday’s televised clash against title rivals Home United. The Protectors have been widely talked up as hot favourites for the S.League title this season and there is no doubting their superior fitness levels under astute Korean coach Lee Lim-Saeng.

The Bruneians will be in for a physically demanding 90 minutes, and will need to keep up the pace as well as deny marquee man Lee Kwan-Woo the space to strut his stuff if they want to stay top for yet another week.

Will the Eagles turn the corner?  

Tampines Rovers vs Geylang International, Sunday 16 March

There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for Geylang. After two successive losses including a heavy defeat against Home United which coach Kanan Vedhamuthu described as ‘unacceptable’, they will now have the not-so-enviable task of topping the defending champions on away ground.

Affectionately dubbed the ‘Eastern Derby’, this rivalry between the two clubs has died down a little over the years given their differing league positions but the Eagles will hope to prove more of a challenge on Sunday night.

Perhaps they will do well to have a closer look at the Stags’ last league outing where their defensive frailties were exploited by the Young Lions. Firstly though, they will need to sort out their own errors at the back in order to stand up to the budding partnership between Tampines forwards Aleksandar Duric and Miljan Mrdakovic. 

Photo Credit: Chris Harvey