The 2014 S.League season is now in full flow as FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan picks out the likely talking points in Round 4...
Can Weaver silence his high-flying former employers?
Warriors FC vs Hougang United, Thursday 20 March
It has been an unexpectedly spectacular start to season 2014 for Hougang United, with seven points collected from three games against last term’s top six. With an arguably weaker squad than past seasons, even the most ardent Cheetahs fan wouldn’t have dreamt of such fine opening form.
Critics will be wondering when the bubble will burst, but Hougang will be hoping the answer is not anytime soon. It will be yet another tough test this week as they travel to the North-West to take on Alex Weaver’s Warriors.
Unceremoniously relieved of duties by Hougang early last season, the young Englishman has been steadily rebuilding his reputation with the former giants. Bar an unlucky defeat in Bandar Seri Begawan, his Warriors have displayed promising attacking qualities with new signings Miroslav Pejic, Kevin McCann and Hafiz Rahim all finding themselves on the scoresheet thus far.
With Cheetahs first-choice keeper Fadhil Salim expected to be out for six to eight weeks and key centre-back Igor Cerina still nursing himself back to full fitness, it looks a good opportunity for the Warriors to string together a third successive home win.
Can the Eagles lift the gloom?
Geylang International vs Courts Young Lions, Thursday 20 March
Nothing positive has emerged from the mainstream papers with regards to Geylang International’s season thus far. Three losses out of three, coupled with off-field turmoil, had Kanan Vedhamuthu’s coaching post under serious threat. In our FFT S.League Takeaway last week, we mentioned that this result in this upcoming game could prove pivotal in deciding his future.
But it seems Kanan has not even been allowed a chance to redeem himself. Former Woodlands Wellington coach Jorg Steinebrunner has now been put in charge of main coaching duties, with Eagles fans desperately hoping the change will bring about better fortunes for the beleagured team.
The visiting Young Lions have grown from strength to strength since their opening-day defeat to Balestier Khalsa and since notched their first point of the season in the last round. However, with this being the Eagles' first home game and also their first under a new head coach, there is enough impetus for the players to lift their performances from the listless ones which they displayed in the first three games. At least a point from this clash could go a long way in finally embarking on the road to recovery for the Eagles.
Can White Swans improve on stuttering start?
Albirex Niigata (Singapore) vs Balestier Khalsa, Friday 21 March
Two defeats from the opening three games – not exactly the way how a side with title ambitions wanted to kickstart the season. Outrunned by Steve Kean’s DPMM in the opening game, Tatsuyuki Okuyama’s charges was then outgunned by a fearless Hougang United outfit last week.
The new gaffer will now have to urgently sort out their problems before their championship-winning dreams fade away. When his side gets into their full flow, the interchange of play and off-the-ball running are unplayable for many other sides in the league. The problem is that once opponents get into their faces with some hard pressing, the classy White Swans find it difficult to keep the same rhythm.
It will be yet another tough game in this Friday night’s televised clash against Balestier Khalsa, a side well-known for their combative qualities. If the likes of Koki Akasaka and Kosuke Matsuda can stand up to the aggression of Ridwan Jamil and Poh Yifeng in midfield, then perhaps Albirex might stand a good chance of toppling the high-flying Tigers.
Will the Jaguars rise again?
Tanjong Pagar United vs Woodlands Wellington, Friday 21 March
Just like Albirex, Tanjong Pagar are not enjoying the best of the starts to this 2014 season. Title-winning ambitions were laid down in pre-season but the Jaguars have not yet been able to show signs that they can pull off that feat.
Monsef Zerka’s return to the side has not been able to help matters as they fell to successive defeats after an opening-day win away against the young Tigers. Coach Patrick Vallee will have plenty to ponder over this past week, with one of the key considerations being whether to push the marquee man back into the main striking role in the absence of the suspended Masrezwan Masturi. Thus far, Zerka has been largely deployed on the left side of attack and unable to show his real poaching qualities in front of goal.
If the gaffer can sort things out upfront and maybe get some injured players back, his Jaguars should have a good opportunity to get back to winning ways given that opponents Woodlands Wellington are similarly still finding their feet.
Can the Stags take down ‘title favorites’ DPMM?
Brunei DPMM vs Tampines Rovers, Sunday 23 March
Arguably the most successful team over the past few seasons, expectations were always going to be high for Tampines Rovers. They, of course, started off the season in the best possible manner with three straight wins, but critics will point at the way they struggled during their AFC Cup campaign before the comeback victory against India’s Pune FC on Wednesday night.
While the Stags have full points from all three games so far, it might have irked them to see another side who is stealing the limelight. Under new gaffer Steve Kean, DPMM has started the season in equally impressive fashion – with maximum points and clean sheets kept in all three matches. The Bruneians have gelled into a solid unit under the former Blackburn Rovers manager and have since been talked up as the early favourites for the S.League title this term.
Thus the Stags will need little motivation when they travel to Bandar Seri Begawan this Sunday for this top-of-the-table clash. Buoyed by the flowing football which they displayed days ago, the reigning champions will be going into this game full of confidence. And if marquee man Miljan Mrdakovic can continue to plunder the goals, there is no reason why they cannot stop the DPMM juggernaut.
Can the Protectors get their season back on track?
Harimau Muda B vs Home United, Sunday 23 March
Along with Albirex and Tanjong Pagar, Home United is part of a trilogy of title-chasing clubs which are languishing at the wrong end of the table. Widely talked up as the favourites to pick up the crown this season, three points from three games is just not good enough for a genuine title challenger.
Fair enough, two defeats came against top opposition and there were a number of injury concerns, but the Protectors will still need to make massive improvement to prove that they are worthy of mounting a challenge for the S.League championship.
At least the striker crisis looks to be clearing up with the return of Qiu Li from suspension, as well as Bruno Castenheira from injury. That should ease the goalscoring burden on the shoulders of marquee man Lee Kwan-Woo and give Home United some much-needed firepower against a fearless but naive Young Tigers side. Anything less than a win for Lee Lim Saeng’s side will be considered a huge disappointment.