6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Will the Warriors and the Stags take advantage of DPMM lull?
Can plucky Harimau Muda make it three in a row?
Fixtures (Week 25)
Wednesday 15 October
- Harimau Muda vs Geylang International
- Tanjong Pagar vs Woodlands Wellington
Friday 17 October
- Home United vs Warriors FC
Saturday 18 October
- Tampines Rovers vs Balestier Khalsa
- Courts Young Lions vs Hougang United
Having finally moved off the bottom after lingering there for large parts of the season, it is now time for the Harimau Muda B side to kick on and move further up the table.
With two of their last three games to be played at home, they have a realistic chance of finishing as high up as ninth in the table. Razip Ismail’s side are currently in their best run of form of the season, with just one defeat in their last six games.
Having collected back-to-back 1-0 victories against Courts Young Lions and Hougang United to kick off Round 2.5, they will be confident going into this Wednesday’s home clash against Geylang International.
Jorg Steinebrunner’s side are also on a good run, with three wins in their last five games. But if the Young Tigers can replicate the pluck which saw them stealing a 3-2 win at Bedok Stadium in mid-June, there is no reason why they cannot take down the Eagles.
Will Vallee bank on youth again?
It has been a season to forget for Tanjong Pagar United, as they consider their position in the table. However there are still some positives which the Jaguars faithful can take away as the season draws to a close.
Coach Patrick Vallee has not been afraid to give chances to his Prime League boys whenever possible. Earlier in the season, he handed opportunities to the likes of K. Selvendran, Seah Si Hao and M. Arvin, all of whom put in encouraging displays.
He did it again two weeks ago when the team were missing the likes of Ahmad Latiff and Sebastien Etiemble through suspension. In came the little-known duo of Afiq Tan and Marcus Wheeler who acquitted themselves well as they romped home to a 3-1 victory over the Young Lions.
While the Frenchman will have Latiff and Etiemble back this week against Woodlands Wellington, Hanafi Salleh and Ruzaini Zainal will now be missing out through suspension.
It will be intriguing to see if Vallee continues with his policy of banking on the youngsters.
Will the Warriors seize the chance to go top this time round?
A stunning 3-2 upset of Brunei DPMM last week saw the Warriors closing the gap between them and the top to just two points. Claiming the prize scalp was indeed impressive and it only lead to one question – Why couldn't they do the same against Balestier Khalsa at home just days ago?
If they had collected the three points then, they would now be looking down at the chasing pack. But there is no time to dwell on that right now as Alex Weaver’s men take on Home United in Friday night’s televised clash at Jalan Besar Stadium.
With DPMM not seeing any action till next week, this provides yet another opportunity for them to go top at this crucial stage of the season.
Key forward Miroslav Pejic is well on the road to recovery and should be fit to start, while lynchpins Zulfadli Zainal Abidin and Thomas Beattie are back from suspension. All these signs bode well for the Warriors ahead of yet another uniformed derby.
It is now up to them to seize the opportunity and avenge the 4-1 defeat when both sides locked horns at the same venue back in May.
Knockout blow, or are the Protectors in it?
Friday night’s uniformed derby is no doubt the biggest game of the season for the Protectors thus far.
Now five points adrift of the top with just three games to go, they can ill afford to lose further ground. The equation is simple – Win and they are right back in the title race. If they lose again, it might possibly be the knockout blow to their bid to pick up their first S.League title in 11 years.
There are a few issues for coach Lee Lim Saeng to address ahead of this clash, in particular the lack of goals from his forwards. The likes of Qiu Li, Indra Sahdan, Fazrul Nawaz and Bruno Castanheira have failed to replicate their early-season form and have not found the back of the net recently.
Lee Kwan Woo's early substitution two weeks ago against Tampines Rovers laid bare their problems – the strikers subsequently failed to make any impact up front as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat.
With key left back Sirina Camara suspended, coach Lee will also have to figure out a way to penetrate down the flanks.
It will be interesting to see how he sets out his tactics for this crucial clash.
Can the Stags hold off the in-form Tigers?
Tampines Rovers have not shown the quality of previous years that saw them pick up three successive titles. But one has to give them credit for the way they turned the tide when the going got tough this season.
Struggling for wins when Rafi Ali initially took over in late April, they eventually recovered and picked up handy victories against DPMM, Harimau Muda and Balestier.
A four-game winless streak in the league and a crushing Singapore Cup exit to Balestier might have spelt the death knell for their season, but they came roaring back with a timely win against Home United two weeks ago.
Now just three points off the pace, they have the chance to pull level on points with DPMM and continue their unlikely title charge.
Balestier are the form team in Singapore right now, with just one defeat in their last eight games. After taking down Warriors FC and Albirex Niigata (Singapore) respectively, they will go into this game with little fear.
Mustafic Fahrudin and his Tampines teammates will have to put up another solid defensive display to deny red-hot Goran Ljubojevic, if the Stags are to keep their title chances alive.
Can the Cheetahs overcome bogey team Young Lions?
Hougang United simply had no answer when they took on Courts Young Lions this season. Two defeats out of two have the Cheetahs faithful scratching their heads in bemusement.
CYL striker Sahil Suhaimi enjoyed himself against them in particular, scoring two memorable goals in the 3-0 upset at Hougang in May before landing the match-winner in the 2-1 win at Jalan Besar two months ago.
The second result marked the start of a three-game losing streak for Amin Nasir’s side as they eventually surrendered their spot in the top six to Balestier Khalsa. Thus the Cheetahs should have no problems psyching themselves up for this third match-up of the season against the Young Lions at Jalan Besar on Saturday.
With key defender Wahyudi Wahid suspended, it looks like Syaqir Sulaiman could be in line to make his first start of the season. Stopping Sahil will depend on whether the 28-year-old can settle in well and form a good partnership with Igor Cerina in the heart of defence.
Photo: Halim Hakim/Football Association of Singapore