Team of the Week - S.League Rd 24
It’s getting tight at the top in the S.League table and this week’s results could well prove to be the defining moment in the title race.
Warriors FC played twice in this round, falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Balestier Khalsa before recovering in style to beat table toppers Brunei DPMM. The Tigers also proved they were no slouches, beating title chasing Albirex Niigata(S) after a surprising victory just days ago against the Warriors. Defending champions Tampines Rovers also stayed in contention after a spirited 1-0 win against Home United.
In the bottom half, Harimau Muda were the surprise package of the week as they notched 1-0 wins over the Courts Young Lions and Hougang United in the space of four days. Elsewhere, the Eagles’ got back to winning ways as they produced a dominant display to overcome Woodlands Wellington 2-1 as Tanjong Pagar took advantage of a fatigued Courts Young Lions side to win 3-1.
Zaiful Nizam was in stupendous form this week, keeping clean sheets in both matches that Balestier Khalsa played. Albirex Niigata(S) forward Kazuki Sakamoto and Warriors’ Nicholas Velez, their clubs’ top scorers with 20 and 19 goals respectively, could do little to add to their tallies as each effort they took was thwarted by the Tigers’ custodian.
Warriors FC's Hassan Sunny would feel hard done by to be excluded from this week’s list after making crucial saves in the important tie against Brunei DPMM, but when you have a goalkeeper who shuts out two teams challenging for the title then it’s hard to look beyond Zaiful Nizam as our No. 1 custodian this week.
Balestier Khalsa’ representation in the team of the week continues as centre back Paul Cunningham and full-back Syed Thaha produced exceptional displays in the Tigers’ victories. Balestier captain Cunningham has missed much of the season due to injuries but his presence on the field has been telling since his return. His leadership and command of the backline was integral this week as the Tigers claimed maximum points.
Left-back Syed Thaha also played arguably his best game of the season yet, keeping the likes of Agu Casmir and Suria Prakash quiet. The former Singapore international’s set piece delivery was also easy on the eyes and it was one such cross that led to striker Goran Ljubojevic netting from a header.
Ismail Yunos was back to his favoured right-back position this week, with Irwan Shah filling in at left back for the suspended Zulfadli Zainal Abidin. In a match where a win was paramount, Ismail rose to the occasion, turning in an assured performance. The former Home United defender even turned up at the other end of the pitch to turn in a perfect cross for forward Nicolas Velez to finish. With steady performances like this, a return to the national team is not out of the question.
Rounding out the defence this week is Tampines’ Mustafic Fahrudin. It has not been a season to remember for the Stags this term, but the defending champions are not going to give up their title without a fight. Mustafic typified that attitude with a brave display against Home United, marshalling a backline that held firm against the Protectors’ experienced forwards. It also helped his TOTW chances when he scored his side’s winning goal to give the Stags a fighting chance for the title.
Geylang International head coach Jorg Steinebrunner sprang a surprise against Woodlands Wellington by opting for a 4-5-1 formation, fielding Fabian Kwok, Franco Chivilo and Shah Hirul in central midfield. Aimed at suppressing the influence of Moon Soon-Ho, Stefan Milojevic and Atsushi Shimono, the tactical deployment worked a treat.
Fabian Kwok was all over the pitch in what was a dominant display, and it was his sublime pass that led to the Eagles’ opening goal. He also got on the score sheet himself, pouncing on a loose ball in the box to score past former Geylang custodian Yazid Yasin.
Shah Hirul, a surprise inclusion in the Eagles’ line-up turned in an energetic display, providing cover for his back four, and occasionally spraying out inch perfect passes for his wingers. The recently married midfielder was not shy to bite into tackles, stamping his authority well in the midfield.
Harimau Muda picked up two consecutive wins and at the forefront of those efforts was Shahrul Igwan. The Malaysian winger was pivotal in his side’s victories, especially in the clash with Courts Young Lions. Put through on goal with only minutes to spare, the 20-year-old calmly slotted the ball past the Young Lions’ custodian for the only goal of the match. Against the more experienced Hougang United, the midfielder was at it again, providing his strikers with sumptuous crosses.
It remains a mystery as to why Hafiz Nor continues to get overlooked for a national call-up despite his effective displays so far this season. Once again, the Geylang winger was mesmerizing on the flanks. The winger combined his pace and trickery to a deadly effect, making it a night to forget for the Woodlands Wellington fullbacks. The former Tanjong Pagar player also worked well with Leonel Felice, creating numerous of chances for the South American striker.
Goran Ljubojevic took his league tally to 20 goals this season after a brace against Albirex Niigata(S) and a well taken spot kick against the Warriors. The forward was his usual all action self up front, causing problems aplenty for the Warriors and Albirex backline. While other marquee signings have failed to impress this season, Ljubojevic is taking the league by storm at the moment.
It’s another week in the TOTW for Warriors’ Nicolas Velez. The forward, who has already bagged 19 goals this season, was supreme in the crucial clash against Brunei DPMM, leading the line effectively. The Argentinian scored the equaliser for his side before winning smart fouls for two free-kicks that were put away by teammates Kevin McCann and Hafiz Rahim.