Two teams destined to meet at Jalan Besar Stadium next Friday Singapore Cup Final squared up at Queenstown Stadium on Wednesday night in the S.League, but it was far from a dress-rehearsal for the big occasion, with Home United eventually edging Tanjong Pagar United 1-0.
Both sides tried to disguise their likely tactical approach with some unusual use of playing resources, some of them forced by circumstances and others dictated more, perhaps, by gamesmanship.
The star players seemed well below their best on this occasion and the extra work-load imposed on the more experienced men in the Tanjong Pagar side might explain some of their own players’ less-than-inspiring form on the night.
Home also kept their powder dry, bringing on South Korean playmaker Lee Kwan Woo only in the 75th minute, while the Jaguars made no substitutions at all.
Aidil Sharin, standing in for senior coach Lee Liam Saeng, explained that his club’s main man had been busy for a while doing a coaching instructors’ course and was somewhat exhausted after a busy day at his course.
“We had to make some adjustments today as Firdaus [Idros] was sick and we needed a right-sided attacker, so we pushed Juma’at [Jantan] forward,” he explained.
“He even scored today and it was his first goal for two years!
“We didn’t have things at all our own way in this game, Tanjong Pagar worked hard to make it as difficult for us as possible. We defended very well again and our fifth clean sheet in a row was especially good for Shahril [Jantan, goalkeeper], but of course the whole defence made sure that happened.
“The Cup final will be a different game altogether, so you can’t draw any conclusions from this game at all.”
Tanjong Pagar coach Patrick Vallee was pleased that his team put up a good performance against all the odds.
“We don’t have the resources that Home United have,” he stressed.
“We have four players out including Sazali Salleh - we mustn’t forget him - plus John Wilkinson, Ismael Benahmed and Hafiz Nor.
“I can’t say if they’ll be fit for the final (the last three mentioned), but I’m sure they’ll do their best to be there.
“We created good chances today and it was only one mistake that cost us the game, unfortunately.”
Vallee was aware that some of his players were not seen at their best, although perhaps getting 11 men on the park at all was his major concern.
Anthony Aymard, for one, played in central midfield, with Ahmad Latiff dropping back into the centre-back position.
Monsef Zerka and Kamel Ramdani soldiered on up front, but missing the holding abilities of Ismael Benahmed, neither was as effective as usual.
The tackles were certainly flying in, but Vallee pointed out that nobody was complaining earlier in the season when Home beat the Jaguars 3-0, so it was hardly fair to complain now when the boot was on the other foot, although the Protectors still got the three points.
It had been a rugged game, at times, but when the teams meet again in the Singapore Cup Final, as both coaches were quick to point out, it could be a different game altogether that day.