The FFT S.League Takeaway: Eagles' revival continue while Cheetahs take wind out of Protectors' sails

FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan rounds up all the action as we look back on an intriguing fifth week of the 2014 S.League season.. 

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Zerka zest sinks spirited Young Lions

Opponents beware, the real Monsef Zerka is back.

Prior to this game against Courts Young Lions, the 32-year-old had failed to find the back of the net in three successive matches, prompting talk that he might have caught ‘second season syndrome’. But his 15-minute hat trick on Thursday night has banished any and all suggestions of that.

That being said, the first goal could be attributed to luck after Young Lions keeper Syazwan Buhari’s clearance ricocheted off Anumanthan Mohan Kumar into his path. Even the second one could be put down to poor marking as well due to Syazwan’s misjudgement from Sebastien Etiemble’s corner.

But there was no denying the class and quick thinking Zerka showed for the third. Delwinder Singh looked favourite to clear Hafiz Osman’s quick freekick, before the marquee man stole in between him to dink the ball over Syazwan and slam home from a tight angle in one devastating sequence.

That proved to be the difference between Tanjong Pagar United and a spirited Young Lions side, as the Jaguars finally ended a three-match losing streak.

Match Details: Young Lions 2 Tanjong Pagar 3

Resolute Rams just don’t know how to lose

Woodlands Wellington have done it again.

In our 6 Spicy Questions last week, we wondered whether they would able to extend their unbeaten run. Well, we got an answer.

Yet again it was a combination of luck and a superb goalkeeping show from Yazid Yasin which proved crucial to Woodlands' success.

With Albirex spurning a number of gilt-edged opportunities in the first half, the Rams somehow grabbed the lead seconds after the break through Chang Jo-Yoon’s excellent finish. Some heroics from Yazid kept the Rams in the lead until Taiyo Nishida’s equalizer five minutes into injury time finally broke their resistance.

Although they were unable to collect the three points, this result ensures Darren Stewart’s side are still one of the two unbeaten teams in the league thus far.

Match Details: Woodlands 1 Albirex 1

Hougang are Protectors’ bogey team

In our 6 Spicy Questions last week, we questioned Hougang United’s ability to upset Home United again despite their two league successes against them in 2013.

A large part of that lies with how dangerous the Protectors looked in the previous game against Harimau Muda with their Fantastic Four up front. But boy, the Cheetahs proved us wrong once again by coming away with a gusty 2-2 draw (which could even have been all three points).

Yes, perhaps it was helped by Lee Kwan-Woo’s sending off early in the second half, but there’s no denying Cheetahs coach Amin Nasir’s ability to galvanise his side for such challenges. Just like how they did against more illustrious teams like Tanjong Pagar and Albirex Niigata (Singapore), the Cheetahs took the game to the visitors and nearly reaped dividends.

WIthout Lee, the trio of Fazrul Nawaz, Bruno Castanheira and Qiu Li was left largely frustrated throughout the game. A couple of defensive lapses let them down in the end, but the solid display should give them much encouragement ahead of next week’s big clash against defending champions Tampines Rovers.

Match Details: Home Utd 2 Hougang 2

Stags like to do it the hard way

Until the 84th minute, Tampines looked like they were on the way to a first loss of the season.

A lack of ideas in attack coupled with silly mistakes at the back hinted at  a disaster waiting to happen. True enough, the energetic Harimau Muda attackers capitalised and hit two goals in eight second-half minutes and bring the Stags to the brink of defeat.

However, things changed after Noh Alam Shah’s introduction on 82 minutes. The 33-year-old veteran striker finished coolly from Miljan Mrdakovic’s pass just three minutes later before the latter slammed home the equalizer three minutes into injury time.

The unlikely comeback feat was completed when Paraguayan attacker Roberto Martinez (not to confused with the current Everton manager) powered home a diving header from Aleksandar Duric’s cross in the sixth and final minute of added time.

This Houdini-esque escape ensured the defending champions maintained their perfect record with five wins out of five, but Tampines supporters must have been left wondering why their side made life so difficult for themselves for most of the game.

Match Details: Tampines 3 Harimau Muda 2

Eagles display solidarity under Steinebrunner

There is light at the end of the tunnel after all as embattled Geylang International continue their recovery under new gaffer Jorg Steinbrunner.

The Eagles followed up last week’s slender victory over Young Lions with a battling display to deny a much-heralded Brunei DPMM side all three points at Bedok Stadium.

There were a number of positives to be collected from Friday night’s affair; all five foreigners were available right from the start for the first time this season and it seemed like they have resolved their much-maligned problems in defence. Kento Fukuda continued to shine at centre back and cut out the threat posed by the DPMM strike duo of Roy O’Donovan and Rodrigo Tosi, while compatriot Yuki Ichikawa kept young Azwan Ali quiet on his flank.

Under Steinebrunner, the Geylang players seemed to be more motivated and scored off yet another well-worked set-piece – replicating last week’s feat against Young Lions. Now the reinvigorated Eagles will relish continuing their mini-revival next week when they travel to Pasir Gudang to take on the Young Tigers.

Match Details: Geylang 1 DPMM 1

SEE ALSO Photo Gallery: Geylang 1 DPMM 1

No Park, no joy for Tigers

The pre-match build-up was focused on how Balestier Khalsa would cope in the absence of key playmaker Park Kang-Jin. A bullish head coach Marko Kraljevic told The New Paper that it wasn't an issue; he believed the rest of the players would be able to fill that gap.

But after Friday night’s 2-2 draw with Warriors FC, the answer is loud and clear – they just can’t seem to win without Park.

In the absence of the 25-year-old, Kraljevic placed compatriot Kim Minho just behind Goran Ljubojevic, with speedy attackers Ruhaizad Ismail and Zulkiffli Hassim lining up on the flanks. However it seemed like the only route to goal was via aerial balls to Ljubojevic – one such move brought the opener for the Tigers early in the first half but the Warriors then found a way to nullify that threat.

Alex Weaver’s side soon turned things around through goals from Miroslav Pejic and Nicholas Velez. The Tigers looked like they were heading towards their second loss of the season before skipper Paul Cunningham’s stunning 25-yard effort over Neezam Aziz ensured they salvaged a point.

Three games without Park this season, one draw and two losses – with Park set to be out for another one to two weeks, it looks like Kraljevic will have a lot thinking to do for next week’s clash against Home United.

Match Details: Balestier 2 Warriors 2

Main Photo Credit: Chris Harvey