|By Kenneth Tan
The focus of the local football calendar for the month of October so far has been the RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals and the Lions XII's Malaysia Cup campaign, but football fans should not ignore the S.League title race which will resume on Friday night, starting with the SAFFC vs Tampines Rovers clash.
It has been a topsy-turvy race to the finish so far - at the mid-point of the season, Albirex Niigata was leading Tampines Rovers by a point.
It was a test of their resolve when the Tampines management decided a change of management was necessary after their League Cup campaign.
However, bar the disappointing 1-1 draw against Hougang United in Tay Peng Kee's first match in charge, their march to the title looked smooth-sailing as they bounced back with three successive wins thereafter.
It looked like the Stags were strolling to their second successive title, with their rivals all falling by the wayside and dropping points at will. Holding a nine-point lead at one stage, their form then somehow hit a sudden plateau in their past two league games.
A 1-1 draw against lowly Gombak United was followed up by a thrilling 3-4 defeat to title rivals Albirex - a crucial defeat that could yet prove to be the turning point in the title race.
Currently they still lead the table with 46 points but their rivals have slowly caught up again, with the trio of Brunei DPMM, Albirex Niigata and Harimau Muda all having a game in hand.
As it stands, DPMM possess the most realistic chance of overhauling the Stags. Just four points behind in second place, the Wasps can easily capitalize on any slip-up, considering their relatively easy run-in.
Next up is Albirex, who are two points further behind in third.
Despite the six-point gap between them and Tampines, they will hope to bank on the momentum generated by that win over the Stags to carry them over the finish line.
They also have the advantage of the easiest run-in on paper, with games against sides in the bottom half, including two home matches.
Last but not least, Harimau Muda is still mathematically in the title race with 38 points at fourth.
However, a massive eight-point gap coupled with a tricky run-in that will see them take on the Stags in their final match means that the Young Tigers can only be ranked as outsiders.
With that said, perhaps the most important fact is that the Stags still have their fate in their own hands despite having the toughest run-in with games against SAFFC and Harimau Muda.
The equation is simple for Tay and his men - win both games, and the title is theirs for the taking.
And if they do so, chairman Teo Hock Seng will do well to send a hamper to Hougang counterpart Bill Ng, whose side may end up lending Tampines a big helping hand.
Despite not being involved in the title race, the Cheetahs can potentially play the role of spoilers, as they are hosting DPMM and Harimau Muda in their last two matches.
Remaining games for title contenders
Friday, October 19 - vs SAFFC (Jalan Besar Stadium)
Thursday, November 1 - vs Harimau Muda (Jalan Besar Stadium)
Sunday, October 21 - vs Woodlands Wellington (A)
Wednesday, October 24 - vs Hougang United (A)
Friday, November 2 - vs Balestier Khalsa (H)
Albirex Niigata (S)
Saturday, October 20 - vs Geylang United (H)
Saturday, October 27 - vs Courts Young Lions (H)
Sunday, November 4 - vs Gombak United (A)
Wednesday, October 24 - vs Geylang United (H)
Monday, October 29 - Hougang United (A)
Thursday, November 1 - vs Tampines Rovers (Jalan Besar Stadium)