The FFT S.League Takeaway: Warriors maintain vantage point while Hougang equal best-ever finish

 FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan rounds up all the action as we look back on Week 26 of the 2014 S.League season… 

Warriors learning fast in harsh title race

Results (Week 26)

Tuesday 21 October

  • Woodlands Wellington 1-2 Courts Young Lions
  • Geylang International 0-4 Hougang United

Thursday 23 October

  • Warriors FC 2-1 Tampines Rovers
  • Harimau Muda 0-5 Tanjong Pagar United

Friday 24 October

  • Albirex Niigata (Singapore) 2-1 Home United

Saturday 25 October

  • Courts Young Lions 1-1 Geylang International
  • Brunei DPMM 1-1 Balestier Khalsa

In a tight title race like this, there is little room for error. It's a lesson that Warriors FC have learnt, as they carved out a hard-fought 2-1 win over Tampines Rovers on Thursday.

The Warriors got off to the worst of starts inside just four minutes with no one picking up Noh Alam Shah from a corner, allowing the veteran to nod the visitors ahead. Realizing their frailty on set-pieces, Daniel Bennett and company tightened up on that aspect as they gave away little space thereafter.

The Stags strikeforce of Alam Shah and Miljan Mrdakovic was effectively shunted out as Alex Weaver’s men seized control of the game.

They levelled matters on 11 minutes when Agu Casmir capitalized on Ang Zhi Wei’s stray pass and lashed a howitzer of a shot into the top corner, but had to stay patient in their quest for another goal.

Nicolas Velez was denied by Justin Pasfield on several occasions, before Miroslav Pejic hit the perfect freekick from 20 yards out to leave the Stags goalie rooted to the spot with 11 minutes to go.

Unlike previous games, they managed to keep their concentration in the dying moments as they saw out the victory. With DPMM stumbling at this crucial juncture, the Warriors are well poised to claim the coveted prize.

The Wasps choke again

Fans of Brunei DPMM might not want to consider this, but are the Wasps cracking up under the pressure of the title race?

A 1-1 draw against Balestier Khalsa on Saturday night saw them stretch their winless run to five games.

Taking the lead on 18 minutes through Rodrigo Tosi’s (who else?) header, that should have been the platform for them to build on and get further goals. However they let the Tigers back in just a minute later.

Veteran defender Shahrulrizal Abd Rahman was caught napping as Zulkiffli Hassim stole in to squeeze the ball in between him and keeper Azman Ilham for the equalizer. They huffed and puffed thereafter, but simply could not find the breakthrough goal.

Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam produced a series of saves to deny Roy O’Donovan, while Jonathan Xu’s handball on the line went unpunished. In the end, Steve Kean’s men had to settle for a point.

Now three points behind with a game in hand, DPMM simply have to get their act together to reignite their flailing title hopes.

The White Swans are still in it!

Much of the attention in regards to the title race has been given to Warriors FC and DPMM, to the extent that many forget that there is one more team still in it.

A neat 2-1 victory over Home United on Friday night has saw Albirex Niigata (Singapore) somehow playing themselves back into contention for the crown.

Despite the relatively young age of the squad, Tatsuyuki Okuyama’s charges showed the hunger and desire to prove that they belong with the big boys. Home gave little away bar two defensive lapses in the first 30 minutes and the White Swans ruthlessly cashed in on both.

Noh Rahman’s uncharacteristic slip let in Kento Nagasaki who casually cut inside Kwon Da-kyung before curling into the bottom right corner, before Kazuki Sakamoto lashed home after Juma’at Jantan had misjudged Nagasaki’s slide-rule pass.

That rendered Lee Kwan-Woo’s spectacular equaliser useless as the White Swans stay six points behind leaders Warriors FC. If they manage to pick up wins in the final week’s fixtures against DPMM and Warriors, they could possibly still snatch the title.

It does sound like a hard task. However stranger things have happened in football, haven't they?

Cheetahs secure seventh, finally…

Hougang United fans must be relieved after last Tuesday’s emphatic 4-0 win against Geylang International.

They had started Round 2.5 well with a 3-0 victory at Woodlands Wellington but two successive defeats saw the gap between them and 8th placed Geylang trimmed to just five points.

Memories of the four-match winless run which saw them surrender sixth spot are still fresh, but they managed to banish any such notions at Bedok.

Against an on-form Geylang outfit, they toiled for the first 40 minutes before finding the breakthrough via a Kento Fukuda own goal.

From there on, it was almost one-way traffic with Geison Moura thumping in a couple of strikes while hardman Firman Hanif scored his first-ever goal in the S.League. 

It was an emphatic victory for the Cheetahs, who managed to seal seventh spot – equalling their best-ever finish in their short history.

Terrific trio key to SEA Games gold medal bid

Prior to the start of the season, Courts Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar was confident that his side would not replicate last year’s bottom-place finish.

However with three games left to go, the developmental side were still sitting in that position and in danger of repeating history.

Thus out went the Canadian duo of Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri, and in came the LionsXII trio of Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Shahfiq Ghani. The introduction of the three players immediately galvanised the outfit as they picked up two wins and a draw to secure a 10th place finish.

The transformation has been drastic; the attack looks much more dangerous with Shahfiq and Faris supporting Sahil Suhaimi and Iqbal Hussain to make a rather fearsome front four.

In particular, Iqbal has flourished in the presence of the returning duo as he found the space to roam and fire in a couple of stingers from range. Meanwhile Shakir struck up a neat partnership with Amirul Adli at the heart of defence.  

There's no doubt the Young Lions can benefit from having players who have experienced football at an arguably higher level. It is still unknown if the Football Association will opt to shift the trio back to Young Lions for next season, but it is clear that they are vital to the nation’s gold medal bid at the upcoming SEA Games.

Jaguars ending disappointing season on a high

It has not been the best of seasons for Tanjong Pagar United, but at least they can be happy with the way they are ending it.

A 5-0 thumping of Harimau Muda B saw them extend their winning streak to three games as they stay unbeaten thus far in Round 2.5. While it can be argued that the Young Tigers did not put up much resistance, credit has to be given to the way the Jaguars kept going after being three goals up at half time.

The first-half goals came via some fantastic build-up play which saw Asraf Rashid, Sebastian Etiemble and Monsef Zerka applying the finishing touches.

The show then continued after the break, with Hafiz Osman stooping to head in the fourth before Etiemble left the best for last by bamboozling his marker before firing into the bottom left corner.

After sealing 9th spot, things can get even better for Tanjong Pagar next week. A victory over Hougang would see them move up to 8th.

Photo: Rayne Tan/Football Association of Singapore