6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Could the Warriors make it a two-horse title race?

The 2014 S.League season resumes this week, with eight fixtures to be played from October 1 to 7. FourFourTwo’s Kenneth Tan goes over the talking points for Week 24…   

Will on-loan LionsXII trio push Young Lions to greater heights?

One of the biggest news in local football over the past week has been the loan moves of Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Shahfiq Ghani back to their alma mater, Courts Young Lions, subject to paperwork.

There is no doubt how much this development can benefit both the club and the players. The trio can keep up their fitness levels ahead of representing the national team at the AFF Suzuki Cup, while the club looks to maintain their upsurge in form towards the end of Round 2.

Fixtures (Week 24)

Wednesday 1 October

  • Courts Young Lions vs Harimau Muda
  • Warriors FC vs Balestier Khalsa

Thursday 2 October

  • Home United vs Tampines Rovers

Friday 3 October

  • Geylang International vs Woodlands Wellington

​Saturday 4 October

  • Hougang United vs Harimau Muda
  • Tanjong Pagar vs Courts Young Lions

​Monday 6 October

  • Balestier Khalsa vs Albirex Niigata (S)

​Tuesday 7 October

  • Brunei DPMM vs Warriors FC 

It sets up an interesting end to the season for the bottom six with just four matches to go. Although currently second-from-bottom, Aide Iskandar’s boys are within touching distance of 8th spot which is now occupied by Geylang International.

Fans who were thrilled by Singapore’s displays in the Asian Games can look forward to seeing the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Faris, Shahfiq and Sahil in action again. Meanwhile Shakir’s presence will add steel to a backline which included midfielders Amirul Adli and Anumanthan Mohan Kumar for large parts of the season.

If everything goes well for them against Harimau Muda and Tanjong Pagar United, they could surge up to 9th by the end of this week.

Can the Warriors improve their chances of a league title?

Brunei DPMM’s defeat to Home United last week has handed an unlikely lifeline to the rest of the chasing pack, especially Warriors FC.

Although still five points behind, the uniformed side has a game in hand and could turn the deficit around this week.

A victory against Balestier Khalsa on Wednesday will narrow the gap to just two points, before the two big guns lock horns at Bandar Seri Begawan next Tuesday. Maximum points from these two games will mean the Warriors taking over at the summit at this critical juncture.

This looks like a difficult feat, but it is important that the Warriors players believe they can pull this off in the first place. The primary task for coach Alex Weaver now is to plot a way past Balestier, who have proved to be their bogey team in recent years.

The Warriors has not beaten the Tigers in regulation time in the past nine meetings. To make the task harder, Marko Kraljevic’s men are now on a high after upsetting Tampines Rovers to reach the RHB Singapore Cup final.

A timely win will set the Warriors up for the big one against DPMM rather nicely.

Can DPMM stay top before the break for Suzuki Cup qualifiers?

When the fixtures for the round 2.5 were announced, it seemed like a straightforward task for Brunei DPMM in their quest for the S.League title.

Three straight home fixtures meant they could be home and dry if they managed to pick up maximum points.

However things have not exactly panned out the way they wanted. Failure to defend set-plays cost them dearly in a 2-1 reverse against Home United two weeks ago, before they were dealt another blow last week when the Protectors overcame them over two legs to reach the Singapore Cup final at their expense.

The Treble dream is now truly over, and it is time to concentrate wholly on the title bid. Their next task will be to take down Warriors FC, who have proved to be a tough nut to crack this season.

A 2-0 home win at the start of the season largely overlooked the fact that they were outplayed for the first 45 minutes, while they suffered a 1-0 loss in Choa Chu Kang back in May.

Of course they will also have to cope without the services of 22-goal top scorer Rodrigo Tosi — suspended after collecting his seventh yellow card of the season.

A loss against the Warriors would be unthinkable, considering they will take a 17-day break due to the Bruneian national team’s involvement in the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers. With Alex Weaver’s men playing two fixtures in the same period, their title chances could be well out of their own hands by the time they return to face Balestier on Oct 24.

Can the Protectors maintain their upturn in form?

The volatile nature of this title race means the second to fifth-placed teams all stand a realistic chance of leapfrogging DPMM at the summit, including an inconsistent Home United side.

Indeed one of the biggest problems for Lee Lim Saeng’s side this season has been the inability to string results together, bar a six-game unbeaten run in the initial stages.

Currently five points adrift of the top, their results over the past couple of weeks should have given them renewed vigour in this title race. Twice they have come back to deny DPMM in both the league and cup competition.

Two goals in the last 11 minutes turned the league game around in Bandar Seri Begawan two weeks ago, before they repeated that feat in the Singapore Cup second leg last Friday. Trailing 2-1 on aggregate, defenders Noh Rahman and Song In-Young stepped in and delivered the goods in the last seven minutes to send them into the final.

Buoyed by their recent form, they should have no fears going into this week’s clash against an out-of-sorts Tampines Rovers. The defending champions are winless in the last four league games and crashed out of the Singapore Cup on penalties to Balestier.

Another positive result for Lee’s men will send a signal that the real Protectors are back.

Can Felice replicate SOS Cup heroics?

If there were ever any doubts about Leonel Felice’s ability, they should be banished after the Geylang International forward put in a superb display for the Singapore Selection in their 2-1 defeat to a Selangor Selection in last Saturday’s Sultan of Selangor’s (SOS) Cup.

Felice led the line well after coming on at half time and made up for the one-man deficit after Hafiz Sujad’s dismissal. The Argentine harassed defenders into losing the ball, brought the rest of the supporting cast into play and forced Selangor defender Steve Pantelidis into conceding a needless free kick outside the box.

The forward dusted himself off and curled a brilliant effort over the wall to stun both Farizal Marlias in the Selangor goal and the majority of the 80,000 fans present at Shah Alam Stadium into silence.

Although the 31-year-old did not end the night with a win, he should be massively proud of his efforts. It is interesting to see whether he can turn on the style again for the remaining four games of Geylang’s season, starting from this week’s ‘live’ game against Woodlands Wellington.

More of such performances, coupled with adding to his 11-goal tally could help him earn a new contract with the Eagles for next season. 

Can the Cheetahs close the season out with a bang?

Hougang United's improvement this season was rewarded on the weekend, with the club heavily represented in the Singapore Selection side for the recently-concluded SOS Cup.

Coach Amin Nasir's good work was recognised as he was named head coach while seven players (Fadhil Salim, Igor Cerina, Wahyudi Wahid, Faizal Amir, Fazli Jaafar, Shunsuke Nakatake and Geison Moura) were called up.

It must had been an incredibly proud moment for the Hougang HOOLs (Hougang United fans) to see their players acquitting themselves well in the hostile cauldron of Shah Alam — particularly goalkeeper Fadhil who pulled off a series of good saves and centre-back Wahyudi who kept Selangor hitman Paulo Rangel relatively quiet despite the latter scoring two goals.

With that gala game done and dusted, it is now time to head back to the S.League where they will face Harimau Muda next. This will be a good test of their abilities to stay focused against what is admittedly inferior opposition.

Hougang's results against the top six have been pretty impressive to and it was their carelessness against the lower-rung teams which ultimately caused them to lose out on a spot in the top six. 

This game also provides an opportunity for revenge. The two teams met at Hougang barely a month ago and it was the Young Tigers who pulled off a 2-1 upset, which caused them to lose their grip on the 6th spot which they had held for so long.

A point will see them virtually securing seventh spot, their highest-ever finish in the S.League.

Image: Abel Khoo/Football Association of Singapore