Warriors FC vs Tampines Rovers: Time for the real contenders to step up

S.League | Jalan Besar Stadium | Friday 19 Feb | 7.45pm 

Billed As

A chance for both sides to rectify unflattering opening days

The lowdown

Match week two rolls on and after opening day draws, both Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC will be eager to register their first win of the season.

Warriors Form

  • Home United 2 Warriors 2 (S.League)
  • Young Lions 2 Warriors 6 (Friendly)
  • Albirex Niigata 0 Warriors 2 (Friendly)
  • Warriors 7 Warwick Knights 0 (Friendly) 
  • Warriors 4 Police SA 0 (Friendly)

Tampines Form

  • Tampines 3-3 Geylang International (S.League)
  • Albirex Niigata (S) 1-1 Tampines (Friendly)
  • Mohun Bagan 3-1 Tampines (ACL Qualifiers)
  • Tampines 1-0 Johor Darul Ta’zim II (Friendly)
  • Tampines 2 Hougang 0 (Friendly)

Last 5 Meetings

  • Tampines 0 Warriors FC 0 (S.League, Nov ‘15)
  • Warriors FC 2 Tampines 1 (S.League, Aug ‘15)
  • Warriors FC 1 Tampines 0 (League Cup, Jul ‘15)
  • Tampines 2 Warriors 3 (S.League, Apr ‘15)
  • Warriors FC 2 Tampines 1 (S.League, Oct ‘14)

Both teams flattered to deceive in their opening bouts and were fortunate not to receive a knockout blow from their opponents.

Warriors were dominated by Home United but the Protectors failed to convert their numerous chances, allowing the Warriors to sneak in a 90th minute equaliser against the run of play.

Meanwhile, Tampines had to weather the storm against Geylang for large parts of the second-half and escaped with a point courtesy of a late, stupendous Yasir Hanapi strike and an injury time super save from goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

With Tampines the clear bookmakers’ favourites to win the title, all eyes will once again be on the Stags and their star man Jermaine Pennant to see if they can live up to their billing this time around.

In recent times, however, the Warriors have been far superior in the head-to-head stakes, regardless of the setting. Last season the teams clashed in domestic competition four times, with the Warriors winning thrice and drawing once.

Led by the English-born duo of Pennant and Billy Mehmet, Tampines will be aiming to correct that dismal record.

Team News: Suspensions galore

Both sides come into this encounter having to deal with suspensions to crucial players.

For the Warriors, they will have to do without the services of Madhu Mohana after the centre-back was sent off for lashing out at Irfan Fandi in the Warriors’ draw with Home United last Sunday.

Former Hougang United defender Syaqir Sulaiman is expected to fill Madhu’s place. This will also be a reunion for fullbacks Shaiful Esah and Zulfadli Zainal, who both played for the Stags last season before the latter’s departure.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Behe limped off in the closing stages of the opening match but the Frenchman is expected to be fit as he strives to notch his second goal in as many games for the home side.  

Tampines are also hit by suspensions after both Yasir and captain Noh Rahman saw red in their 3-3 draw with Geylang International.

At the back, it is expected to be a straight swap between Noh and former LionsXII favourite Afiq Yunos.

The task of replacing Yasir in midfield will boil down to a pick between the tenacious Fabian Kwok or hard man Mustafic Fahrudin.

But the main question marks hangs over the fitness of star man Pennant. The former Liverpool winger enjoyed a 34-minute cameo against Geylang and it remains to be seen if the Englishman has recovered from his thigh strain enough to start this one.

New signing Billy Mehmet on the ball for the Stags last week

Key Battle: Kento Fukuda vs Billy Mehmet

The capture of Kento Fukuda was much celebrated in pre-season and in the friendlies that followed, the Japanese centre-back showed why he was picked in the Singapore Selection side that featured in the 2015 Barclays Asia Trophy against Arsenal, Everton and Stoke. But in the opening match of the season, Kento was not at his best as he failed to contain the likes of Khairul Nizam and Ken Ilso.

Judging by Mehmet’s performance on his debut for the Stags, Kento is in for another long night. The former Republic of Ireland under- 21 forward was a menace against Geylang as he played a vital part in all three of his side’s goals, scoring once and setting up the other two.

Having already run the Eagles’ Yuki Ichikawa ragged, Kento will need to be at his best to ensure that Mehmet does not get the better of two Japanese defenders in one week.

The Coaches

It is not often that you see a side coached by V.Sundramoorthy involved in a 3-3 draw. Known for building sides that are defensively disciplined and pragmatic in their attacking approach, the Stags’ swashbuckling offensive performance took most of the watching audience by surprise.

It will be interesting to see if the Dazzler uses the same gung-ho approach throughout the season and if his side will be able to regularly collect three points with its current philosophy.

His counterpart Jorg Steinebrunner will be aiming to show his tactical nous in this encounter. Top of the list on the German’s tactics board would be to devise a plan to stop the influence of the Stags’ Jordan Webb, who the Eagles struggled to contain.

Another key facet of Steinebrunner’s game-plan is his impact substitutions, an element that worked a treat on Sunday when Fazli Jaffar came off the bench to net the equaliser for the Warriors.

But with the sheer quality that Tampines possess in their ranks, tactics alone may not be enough to foil Sundram’s men.

Facts and Figures

  • Tampines’ Mehmet was the Malaysia Super League’s third top scorer last season with 10 goals for Sarawak
  • Tampines’ Fazrul Nawaz was the main man for the Warriors last season as he finished the campaign as the top local goalscorer with 18 to his name
  • Incredibly, Tampines have not won against the Warriors in their last eight outings. The Stags’ last win against the Warriors came in 2013

FourFourTwo prediction

Warriors 1 Tampines Rovers 3. The away side has been installed as outright favourite for the title and in a match like this against another contender, expect the Stags to show their quality.