FFT Singapore's Kenneth Tan reflects on the second week of a new S.League season..
Courageous Cheetahs stun title-chasing Jaguars
This looked like a pretty straightforward fixture for Tanjong Pagar United, considering how opponents Hougang United look a weaker outfit than last year's. Coupled with the return of marquee man Monsef Zerka, the stage was set for a second win on the trot.
However, the plucky visitors failed to read the script. Having survived a poor first half an hour where new centre-back Durica Zuparic limped off before they conceded a Sebastien Etiemble penalty opener, Amin Nasir’s troops rallied together and produced an unexpected result. Igor Cerina’s 36th minute equaliser gave them hope, but the Cheetahs still had plenty to do as they fought off a Jaguars onslaught and rode their luck, eventually finding a winner through Geison Moura’s diving header three minutes from time.
Four points from two games - things suddenly do not look as bad for a club that was supposed to struggle this season. However, before fans of the north-eastern club get too carried away, it is worth remembering they had the same tally at this stage last year before a slump in results.
White Swans find some substance to go with style
In our 6 Spicy Questions last week, we questioned Albirex Niigata’s ability to be ruthless in front of goal after a disappointing first week. Credit where it's due, the lads from Japan answered that in pretty emphatic fashion as they carved out a 3-0 victory over Harimau Muda last Thursday.
After toiling without much rewards in the first half, coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama's dressing room speech must have done the trick as they appeared from the tunnel a reinvigorated side. The White Swans began to string their passes together and the goals soon flowed – with three coming in the space of 17 minutes. First it was captain Itsuki Yamada who lashed home after a superb inward pass from Kento Nagasaki, before hotshots Kazuki Sakamoto and Kazuya Okazaki put the finishing touches to some brilliant build-up play.
It was a joy to watch those delightful interchanges of play and if they continue in this manner, we could well see them challenging for the title at the business end of the season.
Chang stunner lights up game of reunions
This was built up as a game where the two opposing coaches faced their former sides – with current Woodlands Wellington gaffer Darren Stewart enjoying a good last couple of years with the Tigers, while Marko Kraljevic spent the last few years nurturing up-and-coming youths in the Rams setup.
However, it was Woodlands’ Korean attacker Chang Jo-Yoon who stole the show with an absolute scorcher. The Rams badly needed a tonic after keeper Yazid Yasin fluffed his lines in the build-up to Goran Ljubojevic’s opener and they got exactly that from the former Balestier man just four minutes later. Cutting inside his marker at the edge the box, the 26-year-old proceeded to curl a stupendous effort over the despairing reach of Balestier keeper Zaiful Nizam and into the top corner.
It was a pity that the goal did not prove to be the match-winner, but at least the Rams can lay claim to an unbeaten start to the season thus far.
Kean’s honeymoon start continues
Guess who's sitting on top of the S.League table after the two opening rounds? No prizes for getting it right, it's none other than Steve Kean’s Brunei DPMM side. The former Blackburn Rovers manager made no attempt to hide his title-winning ambitions after last week’s win over Albirex and has since led the Bruneians to their second successive victory.
As many coaches will say, you will need that tiny weeny bit of luck, aside from quality, to win championships. And it looks like DPMM have both, based on last Friday’s 2-0 victory over Warriors FC in Bandar Seri Begawan. Surviving a first-half where the visitors tested returning keeper Wardun Yussof on a number of occasions, their class eventually showed in the second 45.
A Rodrigo Tosi stunner from range broke the Warriors’ resistance before captain Rosmin Kamis landed the killer blow in the dying minutes. That allowed Kean to have the last laugh over his compatriot Alex Weaver, but a sterner test will come in their next game in two weeks’ time where they take on fellow title challengers Home United.
Mrdakovic continue to polarise opinion
Getting paid a salary of more than 10,000 SGD a month to kick a ball around means your performances will always be under close scrutiny. Keen observers of the league have noticed Miljan Mrdakovic’s inability to provide proper build-up play despite two goals in as many competitive matches and he was in the spotlight again once again in defending champions Tampines Rovers’ 3-2 victory over the Courts Young Lions on Saturday night.
His ineffectiveness outside the box is still evident, but there seems to be a growing telepathic understanding between him and strike partner Aleksandar Duric which was evident in his first goal where he reacted first to the latter’s knockdown before squeezing home a smart finish.
He was then at fault for the visitors’ second goal where he conceded possession after dwelling on the ball, but he more than made up for that when he superbly chested down a Shahdan Sulaiman’s long ball before ramming home from a tight angle seven minutes from time.
If goals are the true gauge of a marquee signing’s quality, then Mrdakovic is ticking all the right boxes so far.
More woe for Eagles as coach Kanan is livid
There was talk about Geylang International gunning for a top-three finish before the season started. Based on their opening two performances though, it will take something really special if they are to arrest their early slide.
If a narrow loss to the Warriors last week could be described as unlucky, there was no excuses this time round as they conceded four goals to a Home United side which featured a converted forward in Fazli Ayob and a rookie midfielder in Syahiran Miswan. The lack of discipline in defence was alarming, as Izzdin Shafiq had all the time in the world to take down the ball and lash home the first goal after Lee Kwan-Woo’s free kick attempt was parried into his path.
There was chance to save something from the game at 3-1 down, but the Eagles were caught stiff from a counter-attack when two defenders stood off, allowing Yasir Hanapi to fire a tame shot which went under 'keeper Siddiq Durimi’s midriff.
Geylang coach Kanan Vedhamuthu did not mince his words at the post-match press conference, describing the defeat as ‘unacceptable’ and his side’s defending as ‘rubbish’. For now, it looks like a tough couple of weeks ahead for his boys as they gear up for the visit to defending champions Tampines Rovers.
Main Photo Credit: Chris Harvey