6 Spicy Questions for the S.League: Can the Warriors win their first title since 2009?

 So this is it! The 2014 S.League season enters its final week, with six fixtures to be played from October 28 to 31. Here's FourFourTwo’s Kenneth Tan one last time with the talking points… 

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Can the White Swans buck the trend against DPMM?

Albirex Niigata (Singapore) vs Brunei DPMM, Tuesday 28 October

Four encounters against DPMM this season, four defeats. Look away now if you are an Albirex fan; it's not pretty.

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The White Swans have continually failed to turn over the Bruneians this season, although the margin of defeat each time was by only a goal.

With this game being a must-win as far as their title hopes are concerned, Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama has to figure out a way to deal with Rodrigo Tosi and company.

At least they can take heart from scoring five goals against them already this season, most notably a stunning fightback from three goals down to level at 3-3 in the RHB Singapore Cup semi-final first leg although they eventually conceded again and were eliminated.

With the DPMM defence looking shaky of late and having not kept a clean sheet in their last nine games, Kazuki Sakamoto and his supporting cast stand a good chance of causing some trouble in the attacking third.

Will Erwan finally break his duck?

Hougang United vs Tanjong Pagar United, Wednesday 29 October

In what was widely regarded as a transfer coup, Hougang United announced the signing of striker Erwan Gunawan in preseason.

Although not exactly known to be a prolific scorer, his knack of scoring important goals in big games was thought to be crucial if the club were to improve their league position this year.

Indeed the Cheetahs have shown massive improvement this term with fellow new signings Geison Moura and Shunsuke Nakatake being the standout performers. On the other hand, Erwan is still struggling to find his feet.

The 27-year-old rarely completes the full 90 minutes and is yet to score his first competitive goal in Hougang colours.

With S.League clubs soon to make crucial decisions whether to retain players as the season comes to a close, this is one last chance for Erwan to show what he is truly capable of. 

Will the Rams avoid the wooden spoon?

Woodlands Wellington vs Harimau Muda, Thursday 30 October

It was always going to be difficult to replicate the high standards of last season where they finish fifth. However even the Rams faithful would not have expected the plunge down the standings since Salim Moin’s return to the club.

A gutsy draw against Home United and a 1-0 upset of Warriors FC in Salim's first two outings proved to be a false dawn, as they have picked up only one win and one draw in their last 12 games. That run of results would have been termed ‘relegation form’ if that were indeed possible in the S.League.

The Rams are now level on points with bottom-placed Harimau Muda B and could finish the season as cellar dwellars if they lose this head-to-head encounter on Thursday night. Looking at the overall quality of the squad where there are the likes of Atsushi Shimono, Chang Jo-yoon and Moon Soon-ho, it seems almost criminal if that comes to fruition.

All they need is a draw to prevent that from happening and it is now up to the players to give one last push.

How will the prelude to the Cup Final pan out?

Balestier Khalsa vs Home United, Friday 31 October

It is always strange playing each other just before a much more significant clash.

Balestier and Home will face off exactly a week later in the RHB Singapore Cup final where much more is at stake. Before that though, they have the small matter of a league fixture to contend with.

With one point separating both sides at fifth and sixth, this game is pivotal in deciding the final league rankings – not exactly a ‘dead rubber’ game as it was first thought to be.

It is interesting to see what kind of thinking both coaches go into this game. ‘Do we go all out and risk injury ahead of the big game?’ or ‘Do we put out our strongest eleven which may reveal our eventual game plan?’ These are the things which may going through the minds of Marko Kraljevic and Lee Lim-Saeng at this moment.

Perhaps Lee will opt to continue with his strategy from last season when his side similarly took on their Cup final opponent a week before. He started nine of the players who would eventually start the Final and rested Lee Kwan-Woo in the initial league triumph (where they prevailed 1-0), before bringing back the former Korean international as he inspired them to a 4-1 victory on Cup Final day.

Can the Warriors triumph again at fortress Choa Chu Kang?

Warriors FC vs Albirex Niigata (Singapore), Friday 31 October

One of the key reasons for the Warriors’ renaissance this season has been their formidable form at their beloved Choa Chu Kang home. They dropped points there on only two occasions this season, both to Balestier Khalsa.

Their record in the crucial six-pointers there has also been excellent, taking down Brunei DPMM in May before knocking Tampines Rovers out of the title race last week. Thus the Warriors faithful have every reason to feel confident ahead of this crucial game against Albirex Niigata.

Alex Weaver’s men have gotten their act together in recent weeks, notching up successive wins against DPMM, Home United and Tampines to get themselves into this excellent position.

They still have to wait for DPMM’s result on Tuesday to see if they go into the final day at the summit, but what is certain is that the Warriors fans will turn out in full force on Friday night to push them past the finish line. 

Apart from praying other results go his way, Weaver will hope that hotshot Nicolas Velez can continue his excellent scoring record against the White Swans (five goals in two games) if they want to pick up their first title since 2009.

Can DPMM find a way past the Stags?

Tampines Rovers vs Brunei DPMM, Friday 31 October

Could this possibly signal the changing of the guard? Everyone associated with DPMM will certainly hope that is the case.

After three successive titles, Tampines Rovers will relinquish their stranglehold on the crown this year. The only question is perhaps who will be the new kings of Singapore football.

If the Wasps manage to take down Albirex on Tuesday, they will go into this game as the favourites to claim the prize. A win will then be all it takes for them to cross the finish line, with the Warriors facing an insurmountable goal difference of around 20 goals to make up.

That is easier said than done though as the Bruneians have never beaten the Stags in all six previous meetings. Despite assembling a much more competitive outfit this term, Steve Kean has not found an answer for Stags thus far – twice falling to 2-1 defeats.

The game could well hinge on whether hit man Rodrigo Tosi wins the duel between him and Stags skipper Mustafic Fahrudin. No matter what, it promises to be an exciting final day of the season.

Photo: Rayne Tan/Football Association of Singapore