The FFT S.League Takeaway: Stags close in on DPMM while Cheetahs show title-winning credentials in Brunei

 FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan rounds up all the action as we look back on an intriguing 19th week of the 2014 S.League season..

Camara warming up nicely for Juventus clash

Sirina Camara probably did not know that he was about to be called up for the biggest game of his life (given that the Singapore Selection squad list was released a day after the game) as he aided Home United to a much-needed 2-1 victory against Tanjong Pagar United.

The 23-year-old has been one of the Protectors’ best players throughout the season and he showed just why he deserves to be a shoo-in for a starting spot against Juventus next weekend. After a composed finish in front of goal following a horrific mix-up between two Tanjong Pagar defenders early on, the defender went on with his usual job of shackling opposition wingers while getting forward on the overlap whenever possible.

All in a day’s work for the young Frenchman as he helped his side to five points behind league leaders Brunei DPMM. He is one of three natural left backs included in Bernd Stange’s Singapore Selection side (along with Shakir Hamzah and Shaiful Esah), but based on this display, Camara looks set to win the battle to line up against Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Final Score: Tanjong Pagar 1 Home Utd 2

All good things come to an end

Geylang International were on a fantastic streak at the Jalan Besar Stadium this season with five wins and two draws in all competitions. However it seems like all good things must come to an end, as they fell just short of getting a draw against Balestier Khalsa on Thursday evening.

In a tight and evenly-matched first half, the Eagles were perhaps unlucky to fall behind to Kim Minho’s 41st-minute opener. They rallied together after the break and duly levelled matters just before the hour mark through Kento Fukuda’s tap-in.

That possibly changed the tide of the game with Geylang pushing forward to get the crucial second goal, but their momentum was halted in controversial fashion minutes later. Receiving Goran Ljubojevic’s pass at the edge of the box, Balestier substitute Zulkiffli Hassim looked to be in an offside position as he planted a superb finish beyond Joey Sim’s reach. The linesman had his flag up, but his decision was overruled by referee Lim Kok Heng.

That proved to be the knockout blow for the Eagles as they suffered their first defeat in eight games at Jalan Besar. Coach Jorg Steinebrunner will hope his side rediscover that winning formula on the artificial pitch as they face against Woodlands Wellington at the same venue in the next league game.

Final Score: Geylang 1 Balestier 2

Stags shaping up nicely

No matter what their critics say, Tampines Rovers just won't give up in the title race. After some indifferent results towards the end of the first round, the Stags fell a few points off the pace and did not seem like being capable of mounting a serious challenge for the title.

However the club's powers of recovery have been evident since – just one defeat in 10 games under Rafi Ali means they are now a point behind DPMM. Thursday evening’s victory over Woodlands showed just how ruthless this rejuvenated Stags side can be.

Despite creating a handful chances in the first half, they managed to grab the lead just before the half-hour mark through a rasping 30-yard drive by captain Shahdan Sulaiman. It was the same scenario after the break as they finished the game off five minutes before the end through rookie Christopher Van Huizen.

With DPMM stumbling in the race to the finish line, it seems like Rafi’s men are well poised to capitalise and perhaps take over at the top. A fourth successive title is certainly not out of their reach now.

Final Score: Woodlands 0 Tampines 2

Warriors could fall away if not careful

The Warriors looks out-of-sorts at the moment.

After a stunning upset of DPMM in late May, it looked like they are the strongest of pretenders to the S.League throne. However things seem to have changed over the past couple of months. A three-game winless streak saw them drop off the pace before the League Cup break and they continued their frustratingly inconsistent habit upon their return to league action against Albirex Niigata (Singapore).

Taking a 4th-minute lead through Nicolas Velez’s brilliant finish, they failed to maintain that early momentum as they conceded just 10 minutes later through Keisuke Ota’s brilliant lob. From then on, everything went downhill for Alex Weaver’s men with Albirex bossing the game with some superb passing and movement.

Late goals in each half from Kazuki Sakamoto and Kento Nagasaki eventually sealed the points for the Japanese side as they leapfrogged the Warriors to go third in the table. Now five points off the top, the Warriors still have to face Home and Tampines in two of the last three games in Round 2.

They could easily lose sight of their rivals if not careful.

Final Score: Warriors 1 Albirex 3

Jury still out on Austrian training trip

Fair enough, the Courts Young Lions was missing key players in the likes of Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman, Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Sahil Suhaimi and Iqbal Hussain. However with the likes of Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri, there should have been enough quality within the side to overcome rivals Harimau Muda B.

The Young Lions huffed and puffed, but failed to break their Malaysian counterparts down. Webb, in particular, had up to three opportunities in front of goal but was denied by an inspired goalkeeping display by Ilham Amirullah. The precocious Shameer Aziq then wasted a gilt-edged opportunity late on to earn all three points for Singapore's developmental side.

At the post-match press conference, coach Aide Iskandar chose to praise his players whom he felt had improved from the Austrian training trip. However deep down, he will know that his players have to do much more to justify the Football Association’s hefty investments in such luxurious European training tours.

Final Score: Young Lions 0 Harimau Muda 0

Cheetahs are title contenders, surely

Although it has been an impressive season all round for Hougang United so far, there are still some doubters who do not think that they are serious contenders for the S.League crown. 

Well, the Cheetahs are trying their best to banish that notion. An incredible last-gasp 2-2 draw away in Bandar Seri Begawan is proof that they belong to the big boys. In a stadium where DPMM dropped just eight points all season, Amin Nasir’s men were fearless and did not succumb when the pressure came their way.

Nurhilmi Jasni headed them into the lead on 54 minutes, but DPMM substitute Adi Said proved a little too hot to handle as he fired two goals within 11 minutes to turn things around for the Bruneians.

Having seen their lead evaporate with just four minutes of regulation time to go, lesser teams could have cracked but not Hougang. They kept going and eventually got their just rewards four minutes into injury time, as hotshot Geison Moura swivelled well to volley home Syaqir Sulaiman’s flick-on from a long throw.

That sparked joyous celebrations thereafter as they kept the gap between them and DPMM to a very much manageable six points. With no major slip-ups, it is unlikely that they will lose the sixth spot to Balestier.

Also with an excellent record against their fellow top-six sides (just two losses in 10 games), they have nothing to fear when the round 2.5 kicks in.

Final Score: DPMM 2 Hougang 2