6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can the Rams stay unbeaten?

 Round 5 of the S.League kicks off on Wednesday night as we start to gain a clearer picture of where each team stands. Once again, FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan tries to pick out the key questions from each fixture..

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Can Zerka and co. find their mojo again?

Courts Young Lions vs Tanjong Pagar United, Wednesday 26 March

This has not been the start of the season which Tanjong Pagar United gaffer Patrick Vallee had planned for. Things looked fine after their season-opener away against Harimau Muda in which they triumphed 2-1, but there has been little reason for joy since with three consecutive defeats.

New signing Sebastien Etiemble toiled hard in the playmaker’s role but it is clear that the team is missing the creativity of the injured Kamel Ramdani. Marquee man Monsef Zerka was reinstated into his favoured position upfront the last time out against Woodlands Wellington, but was continually frustrated in the search for his first goal this season.

The Jaguars will now seek to improve their fortunes starting with this visit to Jalan Besar Stadium, but a victory will not come easy against the Young Lions. Aide’s boys have showed great character since the opening-day mauling by Balestier Khalsa and were perhaps unlucky to collect just one point in three games since.

A victory against a young and energetic outfit could perhaps provide the tonic to revive the Jaguars’ season.

Can the Rams build on home comforts?

Woodlands Wellington vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Wednesday 26 March

If you had asked any S.League fan which team would stay unbeaten after the opening four rounds, odds are they would have guessed any of the traditional heavyweights Tampines Rovers, Home United or perhaps even Albirex Niigata.

But here we are four weeks into the season and it is Woodlands Wellington who are one of two teams that have not tasted defeat thus far. After collecting three come-from-behind draws, the Rams went one better last week by defeating the Jaguars at Queenstown.

The scary thing is that they have achieved all this away from their much beloved home ground. An S.League fixture will finally be played at Woodlands Stadium with Albirex coming to visit on Wednesday night. The White Swans collected a much-needed victory against Balestier in the last round, but their profligacy in front of goal was all too evident.

If they continue to show such generosity against Yazid Yasin and co, no one will bet against the Rams extending their unbeaten run. 

Can the Cheetahs stun the Protectors again?

Home United vs Hougang United, Thursday 27 March

There wasn't much to cheer about a season in which they finished third-from-bottom, but if there was one thing in 2013 which Hougang fans could look back on fondly, it was completing the ‘double’ over Home.  

A long-range scorcher from Tom Beattie sank the Protectors in Hougang, while goals from Mamadou Diallo and Jerome Baker helped the Cheetahs to a stunning 3-0 upset in Bishan. These players have since left the club, so new boys Shunsuke Nakatake, Durica Zuparic and Geison Moura will need to be up to the task when they visit Bishan again on Thursday night.

In their last game against Harimau Muda, Lee Lim Saeng was able to unleash his Fantastic Four in Lee Kwan-Woo, Qiu Li, Fazrul Nawaz and Bruno Castanheira for the first time this season. Well, we know how that panned out.

Cheetahs gaffer Amin Nasir, who masterminded that stunning three-goal victory in one of his first games with the club, will be hoping that his centre-back pairing of Durica and Igor Cerina stand up well to the threat posed by the fearsome quartet if Hougang are stand any chance of an upset again.

Will Mrdakovic showcase his predatory talents once again?  

Tampines Rovers vs Harimau Muda, Thursday 27 March

The media hacks are beginning to run out of superlatives to describe Tampines marquee man Miljan Mrdakovic's impact this season. There were doubts when we saw his lacklustre debut display against South China – despite scoring the solitary goal, it was frustrating to note his inability to hold up the ball and bring teammates into play.

But four games in, he has been slowly but surely silencing each of those critics – five goals thus far has brought him to the top of the scoring charts. The striker has since even improved on that much-maligned inability to link up play, his intelligent one-two with Shahdan Sulaiman bringing the Stags the winning goal in Brunei.

It will be yet another excellent opportunity to plunder more goals as well as showcase his improvement when his side take on the embattled Young Tigers who have lost every game this season. Not getting on the scoresheet will be a big personal disappointment for the Serbian hotshot.

Can the Eagles continue their recovery under Steinebrunner?

Geylang International vs Brunei DPMM, Friday 28 March

After such a tough start to the season with less-than-ideal problems on and off the field, it must have been a big relief for Eagles fans and players alike after last week’s victory over the Young Lions.

There is still much improvement to be made in the attacking outlets, but there was no denying their new-found resilience in defence. Debutant Kento Fukuda put up a majestic performance alongside young Joaquin Lopez at the back to thwart the Young Lions attackers.

New head coach Jorg Steinebrunner will be hoping the duo can keep up that form when they host a wounded Brunei DPMM side at Bedok. Despite bombarding the Tampines goalmouth for much of the second half, Steve Kean’s team somehow contrived to concede a late goal and all three points to the Stags. They will be out to prove that defeat was nothing more than a blip.

If Kento and Lopez can keep the likes of Roy O’Donovan and Rodrigo Tosi quiet, the Eagles could perhaps dream of a possible upset.

Will the Warriors continue to conquer?

Balestier Khalsa vs Warriors FC, Friday 28 March

It has been an excellent start for Alex Weaver in his first full season in charge of Warriors FC, with three wins out of four propelling them to a heady third place in the standings.

After a season in which they struggled to find attacking fluidity as well as goals, it must be pleasing for the young Englishman to see his new signings Nicholas Velez, Miroslav Pejic and Hafiz Rahim working well in tandem.

On the flip side, those wins came against sides which finished in the bottom six last season, as well as at their beloved Choa Chu Kang ground. Thus the Warriors have a real chance to establishing their top-six credentials when they take on Balestier in this Friday’s televised clash.

Marko Kraljevic’s side suffered their first defeat of the season last week and will hope to get key playmaker Park Kang-Jin back to fitness for this fixture. If Daniel Bennett and the rest of the Warriors defence can stop the supply from Park to Tigers marquee man Goran Ljubojevic, there will be no reason why they can’t topple the Tigers.

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Main Photo Credit: Chris Harvey