Tampines Rovers vs Hougang United: Stags seek return to the summit
TAMPINES ROVERS FORM
Warriors FC 2-3 Tampines (S.League)
Tampines 2-1 Geylang International (S.League)
Albirex Niigata (S) 4-0 Tampines (League Cup SF)
Brunei DPMM 2-1 Tampines (League Cup)
Warriors FC 0-3 Tampines (League Cup)
HOUGANG UNITED FORM
Hougang 4-2 Home United (S.League)
Hougang 1-2 Geylang International (League Cup Plate Final)
Hougang 2-1 Balestier Khalsa (League Cup)
Hougang 4-1 Warriors FC (League Cup)
Hougang 0-2 Brunei DPMM (League Cup)
A chance for Tampines to leapfrog Albirex Niigata (S) to go top – for 48 hours at least
It seems like a long time ago now, but Tampines Rovers were actually top of the pile in early April after an unbeaten run through their first six matches.
The Stags would relinquish pole position to Albirex the following week as they were edged out 1-0 when the two sides played out a top-of-the-table clash. Since then, the White Swans have been sitting prettily at the summit – until recently.
Trailing by 10 points at one stage, the gap is now whittled down to just one after six straight wins from Tampines, while Albirex suffered successive defeats before last week’s 4-0 demolition of Garena Young Lions.
With Albirex scheduled to play on Friday, a win for Tampines in this game would allow them to reclaim top spot for at least 48 hours. That should be enough motivation for Akbar Nawas’ men to keep up their delightful winning run.
The Stags should be raring to go after showing good fighting spirit to come back from a 2-1 half-time deficit to emerge 3-2 winners against Warriors FC last time out.
However, they will be coming up against a side which is buoyed by its own incredible comeback.
Hougang looked dead and buried against Home United in last week’s televised game when they conceded two goals in the first seven minutes.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
Tampines 6-4 Hougang (League Cup, Jul ’16)
Hougang 1-1 Tampines (S.League, May ’16)
Tampines 4-1 Hougang (S.League, Feb ’16)
Tampines 1-0 Hougang (S.League, Oct ’15)
Hougang 0-3 Tampines (S.League, Jul ’15)
The courageous Cheetahs never wavered, however, going into the break level via two Stipe Plazibat penalties, before Iqbal Hussain and Fumiya Kogure scored world-class goals after the break to cap off the memorable comeback.
The result has done their top-three aspirations a world of good as they are now just a point behind third-placed Brunei DPMM with a game in hand.
That should give K Balagumaran’s boys some confidence for this tough clash as they seek to end Tampines’ unbeaten record at Jurong West this season.
Tampines have virtually a full-strength squad available, with key man Jermaine Pennant returning from suspension to bolster their options. Only the crocked Shahdan Sulaiman is a definite absentee.
It is a similar case for Hougang, with right-back Nazrul Nazari available for selection after recovering from the knock that resulted in him being carried off against Home. Defenders Ali Hudzaifi and Wahyudi Wahid remain on the long-term treatment table.
Key Battle: Izzdin Shafiq vs M. Anumanthan
In what is expected to be a bruising encounter, the battle between these Singapore midfield generals could prove decisive.
Izzdin, 25, is the Stags’ smooth operator, chief for breaking up attacks before spraying a diagonal pass to split the opposition defence.
On the other hand, 22-year-old ‘Anu’ acts as a shield for the Cheetahs’ back four and takes no prisoners with his forceful play in the middle of the park.
Akbar emerged victorious in his first duel with Balagumaran when the Stags overcame Hougang 6-4 in a 10-goal thriller in the League Cup recently, but a second successive win may not come that easy.
It will be interesting to see whether Balagumaran persists with fielding midfielder Raihan Rahman alongside Delwinder Singh in central defence, or brings back the more natural option in Yusiskandar Yusop.
Facts and Figures
- Tampines are one of the two remaining teams alongside Albirex who have yet to lose at home this season (not counting the 2-1 loss to Home at Jalan Besar Stadium when they were the designated home team)
- Tampines are unbeaten in their last 11 matches at Jurong West, winning their last seven. Their last defeat there was a 1-0 reverse to Garena Young Lions in September 2015.
- Hougang have won twice this season after conceding the first goal, level with Albirex and Brunei DPMM. Only Geylang International and Home have achieved that more often (both 3).
- Hougang have yet to keep a clean sheet in 15 straight matches, with the last one coming in the 1-0 away win against Warrors in April.
Tampines want to go top, but Hougang could nick a point if they perform to their potential. Could be a shock 2-2 draw on the cards…
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo