6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can the Jaguars lift gloom after lacklustre start?

 The S.League season continues this week with Round 9 kicking off tonight. Once again, FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan tries to pick out the key pointers from each fixture.. 

Is attack the best form of defence for Young Lions?

Courts Young Lions vs Warriors FC, Thursday 24 April

Last week’s victory over Harimau Muda showed both sides of the Courts Young Lions.

In the attacking third, they can be as dangerous as any outfit in the league with the three-pronged attack of Sherif El-Masri, Sahil Suhaimi and Jordan Webb. However at the back, defensive problems continue to plague them as they let their lead slip twice in the game.

With key defender Sheikh Abdul Hadi missing out through suspension while the likes of Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman and Delwinder Singh yet to be match fit, it does not bode well for this upcoming challenge against a rather potent Warriors strikeforce.

Coach Aide Iskandar has much to ponder ahead of this game and he could possibly draw inspiration from that victory against the Young Tigers where they simply outscored the opposition.

If El-Masri, Sahil and Webb can work well in tandem again, the national developmental side may have a chance of toppling the Warriors. But that is a big 'if'.

Can the Cheetahs improve on their profligacy?

Harimau Muda vs Hougang United, Thursday 24 April

There is a oft-quoted saying in football that ‘you are only as good as your last game’. 

After a spectacular start to the season which saw them take down the likes of Tanjong Pagar United, Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Tampines Rovers, Hougang United has been duly brought back to earth after two straight defeats.

Amin Nasir’s men have plenty to prove after those losses and will be determined to show that it was just a minor blip when they travel across the causeway this week.

The most important thing right now perhaps is to improve on their recent profligacy in front of goal. Failure to find a third goal eventually paved the way for a Geylang International comeback a fortnight ago, while not putting away their numerous goalscoring opportunities proved to be their downfall against Brunei DPMM last week.

If Geison Moura and company can rediscover their goalscoring instinct, the Cheetahs should have no problems disposing of the young Malaysians.

Which wounded animal can recover?

Tanjong Pagar United vs Tampines Rovers, Friday 25 April

Friday’s televised clash pits together two sides which are reeling from recent setbacks.

Designated home side Tanjong Pagar has only won twice in their first eight fixtures and suffered their heaviest defeat of the season last week against Home United.

Meanwhile, Tampines have just won one of their last five games in all competitions. To make matters worse for Salim Moin’s men, they were knocked out at the AFC Cup group stage just three days prior to the game after a lowly 1-0 loss to Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw.

Thus there should not a lack of motivation from players of each side going into this game. A win for the Jaguars could lift them to touching distance of the top half, while a victory for the Stags would see them return to the summit (providing DPMM drops points).

Can DPMM cope with the pressure of being pacesetters?

Brunei DPMM vs Balestier Khalsa, Friday 25 April

DPMM made it back to the top of the S.League table after the last round of fixtures, a small yet significant development in this year’s title race.

It will now be interesting to see how they cope with the pressure at the top after playing catch-up in the previous weeks. The last time they led the table, they were unable to hold on to that position as Tampines came up trumps at Bandar Seri Begawan.

This week’s challenge against Balestier will give them a chance to prove that their previous two home performances were no fluke.

Respective 6-1 and 5-0 drubbings of Young Lions and Harimau Muda may have increased the players’ confidence levels, but have done little to prove their title credentials. If they can show up this week with a similar level of performance against a stubborn Balestier outfit, it will send a very big message out to their title rivals.

Can the Eagles extend their unbeaten streak?

Geylang International vs Woodlands Wellington, Saturday 26 April

Geylang's recovery has been unexpectedly rapid. Along with Warriors FC, they are one of two sides which have not tasted defeat in their last five matches.

Given the manner in which they came back from setbacks to recover points in their last two game, the new-found belief within the Eagles camp following new gaffer Jorg Steinebrunner’s arrival is pretty evident.

They are now on the verge of breaking into the top half and that should be enough to psyche the players up for a tough encounter against Woodlands.

The Rams showed in last week’s shock victory over Tampines that they are not just a resilient side but also a team which is capable of playing beautiful football. 

There is also the small matter of facing an old colleague in the impeccable Yazid Yasin, who has been fantastic between the sticks for Woodlands this season. Leonel Felice and company have to keep their scoring boots on in order for the Eagles to extend this unbeaten streak to six.

Can the Protectors vent regional frustrations on White Swans? 

Albirex Niigata (Singapore) vs Home United, Sunday 27 April

They did whatever they could, but just barely missed out on achieving their regional targets.

Home United collected maximum points from their last three AFC Cup group games, but a slow start which saw them collect one from the first three ultimately proved pivotal as they exited the competition early.

The blessing in disguise is that the Protectors will now have more time to concentrate on the local competition and things are certainly looking rosy for them in recent weeks.

Injuries have cleared up and the football has been flowing; that has culminated in an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

They are now just three points off the pace and put them firmly in the title race for the S.League crown – a title which they have not won in the past decade. 

With Albirex still reeling from last week’s massive defeat to Warriors FC, this is perhaps a good time for Lee Lim Saeng’s men to possibly close the gap further.