6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can the Tigers capitalise on the Stags’ porous defence?

 The S.League season continues this week with Round 7 kicking off on Thursday night. FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan tries to pick out the key pointers from each fixture.. 

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Can the Jaguars cope with predatory Pejic?  

Tanjong Pagar United vs Warriors FC, Thursday 10 April

Six goals in the last four matches – that is the prolific form of Warriors hotshot, Miroslav Pejic as he comes into this game.

Okay, one might argue half of them came via the penalty spot, but there is no denying the 28-year-old has filled in very nicely into the void left by former hitman Mislav Karoglan. 

The Croatian hitman's qualities are there for all to see. There's the superb close control and acceleration which he showcased via scoring the second goal against Hougang United, or his penchant for the spectacular like when he cut inside his marker before unleashing an absolute corker against Balestier Khalsa a fortnight ago.

It will be interesting to see if Pejic can extend his healthy scoring record against Tanjong Pagar this week.  If the centre-back pairing of Hafiz Osman and Anthony Aymard can stifle the threat, it will go a long way towards helping the Jaguars' cause against the high-flying Warriors.

Can the return of Webb and Sahil inspire the Young Lions?

Courts Young Lions vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Thursday 10 April

Prior to the season kickoff, there was renewed optimism amongst the fraternity that the Courts Young Lions would give a good account of themselves and avoid a repeat of a disastrous 2013 campaign.

Many will remember how they took 13 games to collect their first point and were doomed to finish bottom of the pile long before the season ended. In 2014,  it took them just three games to break the drought and there were positives to be taken from three narrow defeats.

However, there has been little to shout about for head coach Aide Iskandar apart from that.  As the saying goes: ‘the rain doesn’t last forever’ - there could be a rainbow emerging on the former national captain’s horizon.

The effervescent Jordan Webb is back after a two-match suspension while hotshot Sahil Suhaimi is finally available for selection after passing the mandatory 2.4km fitness test on what seems like his umpteenth try. With the duo lining up alongside the likes of Sherif El-Masri, Iqbal Hussain and Amy Recha, the attack suddenly looks a lot more potent.

If the young attackers can work in tandem, there is no reason why they can’t take down the White Swans for their first win of the season.

Can the rejuvenated Eagles silence high-flying Cheetahs?   

Geylang International vs Hougang United, Friday 11 April

How things change within a matter of weeks.

Geylang was rooted to the foot of the table at the end of Round 3 after three successive defeats and things did not seem like improving in the near future judging by those listless displays. Out went head coach Vedhamuthu Kanan and in came Jorg Steinebrunner.

The wily German has managed to galvanise his squad and things naturally began to flow as the players found an extra spring in their steps. Two wins and a draw since have pushed the Eagles to a much more respectable ninth position.

The return of a number of key players from injuries has also helped the cause, but there is no taking away the man-management qualities of Steinebrunner. Captain Muhammad Ridhuan rolled back the years with a masterful display last week against Harimau Muda, while the other locals like Aliff Shafaein and Mustaqim Manzur are also looking revitalised of late.

Taking on a fearless Hougang outfit which can already count the likes Tanjong Pagar United, Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Tampines Rovers amongst their scalps will be no easy task. It will be interesting to see if Steinebrunner can keep his unbeaten run as Eagles coach going.

Can Razip’s boys emerge from Bandar Seri Begawan unscathed?

Brunei DPMM vs Harimau Muda, Friday 11 April

Everything about this game suggests something of a mismatch.

DPMM are the joint-highest scorers and have the meanest defence in the league thus far, while Harimau Muda have the worst attack and defence on record. While the Bruneians had only tasted defeat once, the rookie Malaysians have already been left licking their wounds in all six outings.

Under new gaffer Steve Kean’s tutelage, DPMM has developed into a classy footballing side with impressive tempo and incisive passing movement. The manner in which they tore the Young Lions apart in Bandar Seri Begawan has sounded a stark warning to the Young Tigers who will come visiting this week.

It may seem like a real baptism of fire for Razip Ismail’s boys, but they could perhaps look to their courageous display against Tampines two weeks ago for some inspiration. For 84 minutes, they put up a strong show of resistance against the defending champions and were on the verge of a shock win if not for the late collapse.

If they can show the same level of fearlessness and indomitable spirit, there could be a slight chance for them to collect something tangible from this contest.

Will coach Lee play with four strikers again?

Woodlands Wellington vs Home United, Sunday 13 April

If anyone felt the 3-3-4 formation of FFT’s Round 6 Team of the Week was farcical, perhaps they should take a look at how Home lined up against Maldives’ New Radiant SC in their AFC Cup group game on Wednesday.

Coach Lee Lim Saeng put in an ultra-attacking formation which consists of four forwards – with Qiu Li and Bruno Castanheira flanking the duo of Fazrul Nawaz and Indra Sahdan. The bold experiment had mixed results though – the uniformed outfit eventually picked up a 2-0 win but was only able to open the scoring after an absolute clanger from the opposition goalkeeper.

Meanwhile the visitors were able to create a glut of chances and that could have possibly resulted from the lack of numbers in the Home midfield.

Thus it will be intriguing to see if the Korean tactician continues with such a cavalier approach when his Protectors take on a compact Rams side on Sunday night.

Can the Tigers pounce on the Stags’ defensive frailties?

Tampines Rovers vs Balestier Khalsa, Sunday 13 April

It has not been the best of starts to the season for an ambitious Balestier outfit. Things had looked promising after a 4-0 thrashing of Young Lions in their first game but the momentum has since fizzled out.

Just one victory in their last five games has seen the Tigers drop seven points behind current leaders Tampines. It has now become absolutely vital that Balestier start winning soon if they want to get back into the swing of things. The task won’t come any harder than this week’s clash against the Stags but there is reason enough to believe that they can topple the Eastern giants.

Salim Moin’s side has struggled to keep clean sheets this season, with the only two coming against Home and Geylang. Things seem to have gotten worse recently, with four goals conceded in each of their last two games.  

That leaky defence, as well as the pedestrian manner in which the Stags defenders have been dealing with goalscoring threats, will not have gone unnoticed by Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic ahead of this game. If Goran Ljubojevic and company can capitalize on their defensive woes, the Tigers might just steal a win at Clementi.

Main Photo Credit: Hendry Poh