The FFT S.League Takeaway: Three-horse race for title as Warriors and Tampines pick up wins

FFT Singapore’s Kenneth Tan rounds up all the action happening in Week 25 of the 2014 S.League season…

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Kwok keeps Eagles soaring

Results (Week 25)

Wednesday 15 October

  • Harimau Muda 1-2 Geylang International
  • Tanjong Pagar 1-0 Woodlands Wellington

Friday 17 October

  • Home United 2-3 Warriors FC

​Saturday 18 October

  • Tampines Rovers 3-1 Balestier Khalsa
  • Courts Young Lions 2-0 Hougang United

Geylang International continued their impressive run of form by coming from behind to beat Harimau Muda B 2-1 at the Pasir Gudang Stadium.

Though Hafiz Nor and Kento Fukuda got the goals, Fabian Kwok’s contribution was equally important in the win. With regular centre back Yuki Ichikawa missing out through rashes, Kwok had to fill in as an emergency centre-back alongside Fukuda.

Despite not having played there since pre-season, the midfield hardman adapted to the position like a fish to water. He was calmness personified, intercepting the ball on numerous occasions before calmly playing it out to his midfielders.

The best of the lot was perhaps an instance in the first half, when he produced a great defensive header to avert the danger after Shahrul Igwan’s cross looked destined to pick out of one of Harimau’s forwards.

The excellent performance earned him the plaudits from coach Jorg Steinebrunner and, more significantly, helped the Eagles to their fourth win in six games.

Tan shows how it’s done

For the second match in a row, Tanjong Pagar United coach Patrick Vallee was rewarded for his boldness of fielding youngsters as his side edged past Woodlands Wellington 1-0.

Prime League starlets Afiq Tan and Marcus Wheeler were retained in the starting eleven following the victory against Courts Young Lions two weeks ago, with the former putting on an outstanding show.

With Sebastian Etiemble and Kamel Ramdani struggling to make things work, Tan’s industry down the right was crucial to the Jaguars keeping the Rams’ defence on the back foot.

The 19-year-old kept going after lashing wide in the first half and was rewarded for his exploits in the second. Reacting fastest to a loose ball, he took the ball past keeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar before teeing up Monsef Zerka to slot home.

His involvement earned Tanjong Pagar successive wins as they tighten their grip on ninth position heading into the remaining two games.

Shi still has it

Hotshot Nicolas Velez scored two brilliant goals as Warriors FC edged past Home United 3-2 at Jalan Besar Stadium to go top of the S.League table.

Given the Argentine ended up taking all the plaudits, Shi Jiayi’s outstanding display against his former team perhaps went a little under the radar.

This season has seen a renaissance of sort from the 31-year-old, whose form had dipped badly in 2013. After showing glimpses of returning to his best over the last few months, this game confirmed that he still has what it takes at the top level.

Both Velez goals were a result of Shi’s speed of thought and vision. The opener arrived when the latter sent his team-mate through with an exquisite lobbed ball between the two Home centre-halves, before a superb run and reverse pass then sent the striker galloping through on goal.

Shi’s performance should have sufficiently impressed Singapore coach Bernd Stange, who was watching from the stands. After being exiled following the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph, it is high time Shi’s returns to the national fold.

Defence the downfall of Protectors’ title bid

Five points off the pace with two games to go, Home United’s title chances are surely all but gone.

We previously mentioned that their problems lie with their misfiring strikers, but it seems their issues at the back are plaguing them just as severely. This loss to Warriors FC extended their run without a clean sheet to 10 games, and it is easy to see why.

Velez’s first goal may have been brilliant, but it could still have been prevented had either Song In-young or Kwon Da-kyung taken responsibility for tracking the forward. Miroslav Pejic then enjoyed the luxury of gliding past three defenders before firing past Shahril Jantan for the second goal. From that point, defeat seemed inevitable.

It is back to the drawing board for Lee Lim-Saeng after this defeat. The coach’s first order of the day certainly could be to disband the Song-Kwon defensive partnership. Indeed, Song looked infinitely more comfortable in the second period after being pressed into attack - where he scored one and assisted another in the second period - while Noh Rahman admirably filled the void left behind.

Stags prove there’s life in the old dog yet  

Tampines Rovers had previously appeared to fall from the races, but seem to have dragged themselves back into the title race against the odds.

Rafi Ali’s men produced a neat 3-1 victory over Balestier Khalsa on Saturday evening - a game in which they didn’t play particularly well, but managed to grab the goals at crucial timings.

New Zealand midfielder Jacob Butler bundled home Noh Alam Shah’s flick-on from Shaiful Esah’s corner just before half-time, before captain Shahdan Sulaiman smashed home a Paul Scholes-like volley in the 73rd minute.

Marquee signing Miljan Mrdakovic made the result safe after Emir Lotinac had pulled one back for the Tigers, latching on to Kunihiro Yamashita’s wild clearance and curling home.

The victory means they sit level on points with Brunei DPMM and just one behind leaders Warriors FC. A fourth successive title is certainly not out of reach – quite a feat considering many had written off their title hopes long ago.

Sahil the scourge of the Cheetahs again

Hougang United must be relieved to see the back of Sahil Suhaimi for the rest of 2014.

The 22-year-old had already destroyed them with his brilliant ball control and ruthless finishing during their two prior encounters with the Court Young Lions this season. On Saturday night, the attacker was pivotal once again when his stupendous 20-yard free kick sailed past the despairing dive of Fadhil Salim to seal a 2-0 win.

The only difference this time round was that Sahil did not do it all alone. Faris Ramli and Shahfiq Ghani supported their frontman ably in was their second ‘debut’ for the club (the debate on whether they should be allowed to play should be left for another day).

The trio showed their Asian Games form by linking well in attack. Faris Ramli was his usual bustling self down the left, and opened the scoring inside 10 minutes with a neat solo goal. Meanwhile, Shahfiq supplied the creativity and was unlucky not to have scored himself with an audacious chip, which Fadhil was alert enough to deny.

All in all, it was a good day’s work as the developmental side climbed two spots to 10th. 

Image Credit: Halim Hakim/Football Association of Singapore