6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can the Warriors stay top going into the final week?

The 2014 S.League season goes into its penultimate week, with seven fixtures to be played from October 21 to 25. As usual, FourFourTwo’s Kenneth Tan picks out the talking points… 

Will the Rams react positively to Salim’s criticism?

Fixtures (Week 26)

Tuesday 21 October

  • Woodlands Wellington vs Courts Young Lions
  • Geylang International vs Hougang United

Thursday 23 October

  • Warriors FC vs Tampines Rovers
  • Harimau Muda vs Tanjong Pagar United

Friday 24 October

  • Albirex Niigata (Singapore) vs Home United

Saturday 25 October

  • Courts Young Lions vs Geylang International
  • Brunei DPMM vs Balestier Khalsa 

Woodlands Wellington are unravelling at the worst possible time of the season.

A nine-match winless run saw them plummet down into the bottom two, with just their superior goal difference keeping them above Harimau Muda B.

Coach Salim Moin has never hidden his frustration at his players in the recent post-match press conferences, and lashed out once again after last Wednesday’s defeat to Tanjong Pagar United. More than just citing a lack of urgency and intelligence from his players, he also singled out forwards Moon Soon-Ho and Chang Jo-Yoon for their failure to make an impact upfront.

Indeed, the team’s paltry tally of 19 goals from 25 games makes for grim reading. Moon, who was last season’s league joint-top scorer with 15 goals, only has three this term. Although Chang has fared better with seven, his last goal came three months ago from the penalty spot in the 3-1 home defeat to Courts Young Lions.

The Rams are now in danger of finishing bottom - not exactly the way they wanted to progress after an impressive 2013 saw them finish fifth. If they want to avert this disastrous situation, the players have to react now.

Can the Cheetahs overturn the form book to seal seventh?

Geylang International and Hougang United lock horns on Tuesday night with both on very different runs of form.

The latter have looked out-of-sorts lately, picking up just one win in their last six matches, while Geylang has only lost one in the same period. The gap between both teams has been whittled down to just five over the last fortnight, keeping the Eagles’ hopes of finishing top of the second-tier alive.

Jorg Steinebrunner’s side has grown from strength to strength over the course of the season and they are certainly looking like the favourites going into this game. Their cause will be helped by the likely return of Yuki Ichikawa in defence, laying the path for Fabian Kwok to return to his favoured central midfield position.

In contrast, the Cheetahs will miss out on Faizal Amir, Fairoz Hasan and Erwan Gunawan out through suspension – a big blow to Amin Nasir’s already thin squad. Having said that, a draw is all they need to seal seventh, and it will be up to the remaining players to prove their mettle.

Can the Warriors keep the psychological advantage of staying top?  

Warriors FC and Tampines Rovers battle each other in a title showdown on Thursday evening, with both sides successfully keeping up the pressure on Brunei DPMM after attaining valuable wins last week.

Even if the Warriors are now one point ahead and the Stags level with DPMM, everything could change quickly with the Bruneians still enjoying a game in hand. Thursday’s clash will therefore be pivotal for both before the Wasps host Balestier Khalsa on Saturday.

If they win, Alex Weaver’s men significantly will stay top going into the final week regardless of the result at Bandar Seri Begawan. That will be a real psychological boost for a club chasing its first title since 2009.

The Warriors faithful have every reason to feel confident going into this game, having gunned down DPMM and Home in their last two encounters. They are also undefeated in the three head-to-head matches against the Stags this term, with two wins and one draw (could have been three wins if not for Marin Vidosevic’s late own goal back in April).

If the title contenders can cut out their recent habit of conceding late goals, few will bet against them going on to seal long-awaited silverware.

Will the Young Tigers discover their bite at home?

News that Harimau Muda B would play their home matches in Malaysia seemed an excellent idea to boost the competitiveness of the league.

Teams get to experience what is perhaps a proper away game and indeed, Pasir Gudang Stadium was a tough venue to go in 2013 with the likes of Tampines, Warriors and DPMM all tasting defeat there.

However, that has all changed this term. Apart from a 1-0 victory over Woodlands in May, Harimau have failed to pick up any points in their 11 other home games. Thursday night’s clash against Tanjong Pagar United will conclude their 2014 home campaign and possibly marks the last time they will play an S.League game there, considering the imminent return of the Harimau Muda A squad.

Thursday will therefore be their final opportunity to give their home fans something to cheer about before concluding their S.League adventure. It will not be an easy task though, with the Jaguars buoyant after successive wins which has seen them move up to ninth.

Goals galore between the Protectors and the White Swans again?

Their two head-to-head encounters this season has already brought 12 goals, with 4-2 the final scoreline each time.

In April, it was Albirex Niigata (Singapore) who stung Home United by going four goals up before Lee Kwan-Woo bagged two excellent finishes to make the result more respectable. Four months later, the Korean once again collected a brace as the Protectors dished out revenge at Bishan Stadium.

These two matches perfectly exemplified what these two teams are all about – scoring isn’t the issue, but defending properly is.

Both sides have conceded the most goals amongst the top six (37 for Albirex and 39 for Home). After three clean sheets in the first four games, Albirex only got one in the next 20. Similarly, Home only shut out their opponents four times this season, with the last occasion all the way back in June.

With both sides realistically out of the reckoning for the title, the pressure will be off the players and we could well see another high-scoring affair.

Can Brunei DPMM recover from recent setbacks?

When the round 2.5 fixtures was first announced, it looked like a straightforward task for Brunei DPMM to claim the title – with three successive home games, they simply needed to win two of them to effectively cross the finish line.

However, things have changed drastically since. Their dreams of doing a local Treble were shattered after being out of the Singapore Cup by Home United, while they now have also lost their place at the summit after the Protectors and the Warriors made off with three points each from Bandar Seri Begawan.

Over the last couple of weeks, coach Steve Kean plus virtually the entire squad were away at the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers with the Brunei national team, with whom which they lost all four games. Confidence levels have quickly been eroded and they must discover new ways to motivate themselves ahead of the three remaining games – beginning with Saturday’s home game against Balestier.

There are still positives though. Local duo Adi Said and Awangku Fakharazzi did impress by netting twice each in their national colours, while the likes of Rodrigo Tosi and Roy O’Donovan are well rested. It’s now or never for the Wasps if they’re to keep their dreams of winning a first ever S.League title alive. 

Photo credit: Rayne Tan/Football Association of Singapore