S.League Preview: Round 17

Goal Singapore previews the league games for this week as the race for the top six heats up with some tantalising clashes in store; do note kick-off times are changed to 8 p.m
Albirex Niigata (S) vs Woodlands Wellington (July 10, Wednesday, 8 p.m, Jurong East Stadium)

Having stumbled to a disappointing 1-1 draw against the Court Young Lions last time out, Albirex Niigata will be keen to bounce back to keep up the pressure on league leaders Tampines Rovers.

The White Swans dominated possession but failed to find a winning goal in a repeat of what has been their main problem this season, as Young Lions goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari did his part with a fantastic showing in between the sticks.

They had to rely on a Shingo Suzuki penalty to grab the point, and coach Koichi Sugiyama has to figure out how to coax more goals from his side. Kazuki Sakamoto is the leading light with nine goals upfront as he tops the goalscoring charts, but their next highest scorers in Suzuki, Brunio Castanheira and Kento Nagasaki have only struck thrice each.

They will not find it easy to break down a Woodlands side brimming with confidence after a stunning come-from-behind victory over Brunei DPMM. Trailing by two goals in the early stages, Salim Moin's charges roared back to seal a 5-2 win in a very impressive showing.

The Korean duo of Chang Jo Yoon and Moon Soon Ho were electrifying upfront with their neat combination play causing the DPMM defence no end of troubles, while they dovetailed beautifully with new signing Theerawekin Seehawong. The Thai midfielder had a dream debut by bagging two goals, and showcased his intelligence time and again with superb passes and perfectly-timed runs.

At the back, the Rams have a safe pair of hands in former Singapore goalkeeper Yazid Yasin, who seems to have rolled back the years with some superb performances in recent games. The 34-year-old single-handedly denied DPMM on a few occasions, and is always in command of his own box despite his relative lack of height.

The visitors will miss the suspended Taufiq Rahmat, but otherwise both teams will have everyone else available.

Woodlands ran out 2-1 victors the last time both teams met and while it will be a more difficult task to get the three points at the Japanese side's home, the Rams look good for at least a point here.

Hougang United vs Geylang International (July 10, Wednesday, 8 p.m, Hougang Stadium)

Two struggling sides will meet in this week's clash at the Hougang Stadium, with the hosts desperate to hit back after two 1-0 defeats on the bounce and no wins in their last five games.

Coach Johana Johari has been confirmed as the new permanent man in charge of the Cheetahs having taken over on an interim basis since Alex Weaver was removed from his position, and he will hope to begin his new reign with a victory here.

The club's main woe is their inability to find the back of the net, with strikers Mamadou Diallo and Liam Shotton having scored only seven goals in between themselves; Jerome Baker has yet to net in the league.

The addition of Croatian centreback Igor Cerina has steadied the ship at the back and Johana should build on this platform to inject more impetus into the offence against an opponent that lost for only the first time in five games last time out.

That was against Home United in a 2-1 defeat where the Eagles arguably deserved a point, although they paid the price for a poor second half.

A familiar face netted their only goal; Jozef Kaplan, who has been their talisman this season after taking over the armband. The Slovakian won the Player of the Month award for June, which was a just reward for a series of scintillating performances that has seen him soar to the top of the goalscoring charts.

Flying winger Yasir Hanapi is also another man to watch with his trickery and pace both down the flanks and when cutting in, as coach Vedhamuthu Kanan aims for nothing less than three points against a struggling Hougang.

In the league table, Geylang are one spot ahead of Hougang in ninth and with a game in hand. The Cheetahs will have to win to keep alive their faint hopes of making the top six, but a resurgent Eagles team should edge this.

Balestier Khalsa vs Harimau Muda (July 11, Thursday, 8 p.m, Toa Payoh Stadium)

Both Balestier Khalsa and Harimau Muda played out a goalless draw in their previous meeting in the league but recent form has seen Darren Stewart’s side win twice and draw thrice in their last five matches.

Starlet Maxsius Musa is in the race against time to be fit for this match while captain Nashriq Yahya was not fully fit to earn a spot in their starting eleven against the Stags. 

Although the Young Tigers will be welcoming the return of Faizat Ghazli from suspension, coach Razip Ismail will have to make do without Akmal Ishak who is still on the treatment table.

Stand-in captain Azizan Nordin will be sitting out the tie as he picked up his fourth caution of the season in their loss to Tampines Rovers.The Toa Payoh-based club will be banking on South Korean duo Kim Min Ho and Park Kang Jin to provide the ammunition to their attackers in the final third, namely Paul Cunningham and Zulkiffli Hassim, who once again looks to start ahead of Vitor Borges.

Singapore international Qiu Li might not be your typical midfielder, running his lungs out throughout the match, but he can certainly dazzle his way through a tight defence and show his worth. 

Give the player plenty of space near the final third and fans will be able to see the reason why national coach Bernd Stange has previously praised the former Home United player.

With the problems faced by the Malaysian side, Balestier will certainly be gunning for three points in this match after being held to a 1-1 draw against Warriors FC a week ago.

Tanjong Pagar United vs Brunei DPMM (July 12, Friday, 8 p.m, Jalan Besar Stadium)

The previous meeting between Tanjong Pagar and Brunei DPMM ended with the latter coming away 5-2 victors in the League Cup, and that was the exact scoreline that was inflicted onto the Bruneians a week ago by Woodlands Wellington in the league.

DPMM was clearly steamrolled by the Rams then, and they will be hoping for a favourable result this time around against the Jaguars. 

At the back, Vjeran Simunic is set to drop 40-year-old Sallehuddin Damit in favour of Azwan Ali as the former was the weakest link in their previous match.

The Jaguars will be banking on their marquee signing Monsef Zerka to lead the way upfront, supported by a host of talented players in midifield.Ex-Singapore international John Wilkinson has slotted in well since joining them a month ago and on the flank, Hafiz Nor’s daunting runs and trickery are bound to give Shahrulrizal and Tales dos Santos massive headaches in the match.

Both Rosmin Kamis (DPMM) and Kamel Ramdani (Tanjong Pagar) will be watching the match from the stands as both have picked up their fourth yellow cards of the season in their previous match. 

While many local sides are still sticking to their long-ball tactics against the Bruneians, Woodlands have shown that DPMM’s backline is easily beaten with quick counter-attacking football through the middle.

That may just be what Patrick Vallee has in store for his side as they will be looking to avenge their 5-2 loss a month ago in the League Cup and surely, they will be aiming for maximum points at home.

Tampines Rovers vs Home United (July 14, Sunday, 8 p.m, Clementi Stadium)

For 75 minutes, it looked like Home United's title hopes were finally going to fizzle out, as they trailed Geylang International by one goal at the Bishan Stadium, with the Protectors not looking like they were going to score.

Then, the referee signalled for a penalty after Song Ui Young appeared to have been tripped in the box. That was the break the hosts needed, as Lee Kwan Woo confidently dispatched the spot-kick and riding on the momentum, Kwon Da Kyung headed in the winner three minutes later.

Coach Lee Lim Saeng will hope for more of the same when they take on league leaders Tampines Rovers, after having appeared to dominate their last encounter, only to wind up losing 1-0.

The Stags have edged past their opponents by identical 1-0 scorelines in their last two games and have not entirely convinced with their performances, although what matters is that they have extended their lead at the top to four points, with a game in hand at the start of Round 17.

New goalkeeper Andre Martins has slotted in at the expense of the released Sasa Dreven, but compatriots Diogo Caramelo and Vitor Ladeiras look like they need more time to gel with the rest of the team.

The loss of captain Mustafic Fahrudin due to suspension will hit the Stags hard, and Home should look to take full advantage of the midfield hardman's absence.

With both teams surely looking to go all out for victory here, this should be an entertaining clash for all involved and as cliched as it might sound, the form book will go out of the window here.

*Note: the match between the Courts Young Lions and Warriors FC on July 13, Saturday, 8 p.m at the Jalan Besar Stadium has been postponed.