6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Are the Warriors dark horses for the title?
Will the Tigers finally taste victory?
Balestier Khalsa vs Harimau Muda, Wednesday 30 April
Six games without a win and languishing ninth on the table – that is how far Balestier have fallen after a promising start to the season.
Club chairman S Thavaneson laid down title-winning ambitions in pre-season but no one is talking about such lofty aims now. The focus is surely on getting back to winning ways and the top half; that opportunity will not come any better than this week where they will take on Harimau Muda.
As much as the Malaysian attackers are starting to hit the goal trail with five goals in the last two games, their defence remains as porous as ever with already 29 goals conceded so far. Judging by the amateurish manner which they conceded against Hougang United the last time out, the Tigers could possibly have a field day come Wednesday.
It looks like the perfect opportunity for Goran Ljubojevic to catch up with the rest of his competitors in the goalscoring charts. Playmaker Park Kang-Jin is still nursing himself back to full fitness, but that should be no excuse for the Tigers not to notch the win this time round.
Can Steve Kean’s men breach a resolute Rams defence?
Woodlands Wellington vs Brunei DPMM, Wednesday 30 April
16 goals in their last four games – that shows the kind of red-hot form that DPMM is coming into this game against Woodlands.
Scoring a truckload of goals against the two national developmental sides is impressive, but claiming an emphatic win against a side which has title-winning ambitions is another.
Steve Kean’s men are enjoying the view from the top now but anything could still happen this unpredictable season. Before they get carried away, it is worth noting that they could have easily lost the game against Hougang two weeks ago.
DPMM do not exactly relish opponents who can match their high intensity and the Rams should have the tools to frustrate the table-toppers. Darren Stewart has transformed the side into one which is hard to break down, with only two sides able to notch victories against them so far.
If the Australian can get his defence to work together in the absence of Milos Jevtic, they could very well match their high flying Bruneian visitors. A sixth draw of the season? Stranger things have happened.
Can the Stags prove that ‘everything’s well’?
Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Thursday 1 May
The Tampines coaching job is looking like a poisoned chalice at the moment. You will get the luxury of a squad full of established players, but the hot seat gets a tad too unbearable when results do not go your way.
Thus Salim Moin have followed the paths of predecessors Steven Tan and Nenad Bacina in leaving the club before the business end of the season. Right now, the task of arresting this alarming run of form (one win in the last six games in all competitions) falls on the shoulders of Rafi Ali.
Despite the interim coaching staff telling FFT that everything’s well in the Stags’ camp, it is never a pleasant sign to see teammates getting involved in heated arguments with each other. This game against Albirex will be a real test of the players’ mental strength and 'bouncebackability'.
The White Swans are coming into this game on the back of a stunning 4-2 victory over Home United and could well snatch points at Clementi Stadium, something which they have done over the past two seasons, if Rafi’s men are not careful.
Can Zerka find his scoring boots?
Geylang International vs Tanjong Pagar United, Thursday 1 May
It has not been an easy season for Tanjong Pagar, given the lack of depth in the squad due to long-term injuries sustained by key players like Kamel Ramdani and Ahmad Latiff.
It does not help the cause when Patrick Vallee has to call on the services of rookies like Seah Si Hao and M Arvin, with the burden falling largely on the shoulders of existing first-teamers. Star man Monsef Zerka's performances have unfortunately been found wanting in particular.
The Moroccan was the highlight of last season as he bagged 20 goals in all competitions for the Jaguars, but he has been a pale shadow of himself this term. Apart from a 15-minute hat-trick against Courts Young Lions, the 32-year-old has not found much joy in front of goal.
With his side taking on a resurgent Geylang side which has been unbeaten in their last six games, it is imperative that the marquee man finds his scoring boots again.
The Jaguars threw everything they could at Tampines the last time out minus the kitchen sink, but just could not get a crucial second goal. A rejuvenated Zerka will go a long way in helping them better that result on Thursday night.
Can the Warriors prove their ‘dark horses’ credentials?
Warriors FC vs Home United, Friday 2 May
This is a great season to be a Warriors fan indeed.
After two lacklustre years in which they fell largely short of their usual high standards, they look to be back to where they truly belong.
Astute foreign signings made by coach Alex Weaver have duly made their mark and gelled along with their local counterparts in an admirably short time. That has culminated in a seven-match unbeaten run, pushing them all the way to second in the table.
Weaver and the players may not mention this to the press, but they must be quietly relishing the chance to clinch an unexpected league triumph at the business end of the season. They could possibly finish top at the end of the first round of fixtures but before that, they will have to navigate through two tough matches – against Home and Tampines.
Friday’s televised fixture against the Protectors gives them a chance to show how far they have progressed. Despite last week’s crushing defeat to Albirex, Lee Lim-Saeng’s side is still very much in the title mix. They are arguably the most complete side in the league in terms of attacking options and it will be a real feat if the Warriors can stifle them.
Which side can plug the gaps in their defence?
Hougang United vs Courts Young Lions, Friday 2 May
It has been a solid season so far for Hougang as they find themselves in the top six at the end of Round 9. However, if there was a point to pick on, it has to be their inability to shut out opponents.
The Cheetahs have yet to keep a clean sheet thus far, committing basic defensive errors which caused them points against Home and Geylang. That problem reared its ugly head again last week, but fortunately they were unable to hold off the Young Tigers for the win.
Not that their opponents on Friday night, Young Lions, have fared better either. Similarly unable to keep any clean sheets, they have leaked 26 goals already – the second-worst defensive record in the league.
The clash at Hougang Stadium gives both sides the chance to show if they have learnt from their mistakes and addressed their defensive frailties in the past week. If not, we might very well be in for a goalfest.
Amin Nasir will hope his side can keep out the trio of Sahil Suhaimi, Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri, while Aide Iskandar will bank on Al-Qaasimy and company to keep out the dangerous Brazilian duo of Diego Gama and Geison Moura.