The FFT S.League Takeaway: DPMM go five points clear while Balestier mount late surge to seal top-six spot
Wasps see the light in title hunt
Things were getting really edgy for Brunei DPMM going into the final three weeks of Round 2.
Then just a point ahead of Tampines Rovers, it seemed like they could lose their spot at the summit at any moment. However a combination of luck and determination saw them pull through this period and in turn strengthen their position as title favourites.
Title rivals were falling away, with successive 2-2 draws between title rivals Home United and Warriors FC, then Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Tampines, as they began to seize their chances.
Coming back from behind twice to grab a point against Balestier Khalsa, the Wasps proceeded to demolish Woodlands Wellington 8-1 at their own Bandar Seri Begawan backyard.
They were made to toil hard in their final fixture of the round as Tanjong Pagar United took a shock lead through Kamel Ramdani, but they eventually managed to turn things around through a Rodrigo Tosi brace.
Seven points from a possible nine ensured they now are five points clear of the chasing pack, going into the round 2.5. With a massive goal difference of +35 (20 better off than second-best Warriors), the title is no doubt theirs to lose.
Do not count out the White Swans
Albirex Niigata (Singapore) is like a pest that does not go away. When it seems like they are down and out, they somehow pull something out of thin air.
A lowly 4-2 loss to Home United could have possibly spelt the death knell for their title hopes, but they refused to buckle down thereafter and produced two miraculous comeback shows within three days.
2-0 down against Tampines after the hour mark, the White Swans rallied together and found two goals in 14 minutes to rescue a point. It was déjà vu against Geylang International as they went three goals down within the first 40 minutes, but somehow managed to hit four back to collect all three points.
That ensured they limited the gap between them and DPMM to a manageable six points and that unwavering never-say-die spirit will stand them in good stead for their upcoming challenges.
Stags lament missed opportunities
Not once, but twice.
That was the tale of defending champions Tampines over the final three fixtures of Round 2 as they missed two opportunities to leapfrog DPMM.
With the Bruneian side dropping points against Balestier a day ago, all they had to do to go top was to beat third-from-bottom Tanjong Pagar at home. However they sank to a shock defeat as Sebastien Etiemble capitalized on a defensive mistake to slot home the winner.
There was a chance at redemption as they took on Albirex days later, before DPMM’s next fixture. However they contrived to throw away a 2-0 lead in the final 30 minutes and had to be contented with a draw eventually.
That paved the way for DPMM to extend their lead after an emphatic win against Woodlands. To rub salt into the Stags’ wounds, they lost even further ground by falling to a 2-0 defeat to Warriors FC next.
Now eight points adrift of the Wasps, it seems like a hard task for them to pick up their fourth successive league title.
Cheetahs falter as Tigers take advantage
In our last FFT 6 Spicy Questions, we questioned whether Balestier Khalsa has the ability to force themselves into the top six.
That possibility seemed rather remote since the gap between them and Hougang United stood at a massive seven points. However, how things transpired thereafter proved that you can never say never in football.
It all started off when Hougang United took on Courts Young Lions at Jalan Besar. With Balestier taking just a point against DPMM two days ago, all the Cheetahs need was one point to seal their berth in the top six.
However a rare goalkeeping gaffe from Fadhil Salim and a well-taken goal from Sahil Suhaimi meant the Cheetahs were made to wait for that opportunity.
That result also managed to spice things up for the showdown between them and Balestier days later. Things were looking pretty for Amin Nasir’s men as they headed into the half-time break with a 1-0 lead, but the Tigers came out of the tunnel a reinvigorated side and plunged in four goals within 30 minutes to round up a resounding win.
That was truly the turning point as the gap between the two sides was closed down to just three going into their respective final fixtures, with Balestier having a superior goal difference.
By now, the Cheetahs were well and truly deflated as they finished off Round 2 with a third successive defeat – faltering against Harimau Muda after two careless defensive mistakes. That paved the way for the Tigers to complete this miraculous feat of finishing inside the top six as they thrashed the young Tigers 5-1 in Pasir Gudang thereafter.
Indeed stranger things have happened in football.
What’s happening to the Rams?
This isn't the best of seasons for Woodlands Wellington as they have found themselves languishing in the bottom half. However it looked like their fortunes were starting to change when Salim Moin returned to the club in mid-June to replace predecessor Darren Stewart.
The gaffer oversaw a stunning upset of Warriors FC in his first game back in charge and followed that up with a gritty goalless draw away against Home United. However the good times did not seem to last long as they ended the season on a low note.
A 2-0 defeat to Geylang in a televised fixture was just the prelude as they suffered a 8-1 drubbing at the hands of DPMM in Bandar Seri Begawan next.
There was the opportunity to salvage some pride against Harimau Muda, but they failed to collect all three points after Syafwan Syahlan levelled matters two minutes before the end.
Now just a point ahead of 11th-placed Courts Young Lions, they could easily get sucked into the bottom two. Having scored only 18 goals this season and holding the second worst goal difference in the league with -24, they have to shore up in all areas in order to avoid that situation from materializing.
Young Lions finally showing their full potential?
It seems like this current crop of Young Lions is not that bad after all.
Taking all of eight games to collect their first win this season and infuriatingly inconsistent, they have stayed inside the bottom two all season. However a recent upsurge in form meant that they now have a chance to finish higher than that.
Learning from their mistakes in a harsh 4-1 defeat to the Warriors, they then put up two creditable showings to down Hougang and Home.
A superb Sahil goal led the developmental side to a 2-1 win against the Cheetahs, before they left the best for the last by thumping Home 3-0 at Bishan.
Coach Aide Iskandar played the right game plan to soak in the first half before striking in the second, and they duly tore the Protectors apart with three well-taken goals.
First it was the thumping finish by Shameer Aziq after a Jordan Webb through ball, before Sahil curled one in from range to settle matters. There was even time for one last goal as Webb capitalized on a failed Home corner to go on a barnstorming 70-yard run, before sidestepping Shahril Jantan to put the icing on the cake.
While the striking trio of Sherif El-Masri, Webb and Sahil looked impressive, it was notable that goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari and captain Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman kept things really safe at the back.
Now just a point adrift of 9th-placed Woodlands with a better goal difference, there is every chance for them to attain a good finish this year.
Image Credit: Abel Khoo/Football Association of Singapore