Tampines Rovers need a win over the seemingly unstoppable Albirex Niigata FC (S) to prevent them from pulling further away as both sides face off at Our Tampines Hub on Sunday.
The Singapore Premier League (SPL) defending champions are running away with the title and it is down to the Stags to end that impressive unbeaten streak.
BACKGROUND: The standings do not make for good reading for second-placed Tampines Rovers at the moment, with Albirex Niigata FC (S) ahead of them by a massive 14 points, albeit having played three more games.
Nothing seemed to have changed from last season, whereby the White Swans were allowed to coast to the league title and swept all the available domestic titles for a second consecutive year.
Despite making wholesale changes to their squad for the 2018 season, Albirex are still dominating the field with the likes of Shuhei Hoshino and rising star Singaporean Adam Swandi among their top performers.
Hoshino has averaged a goal a game so far, while Adam is proving to be the creative fulcrum of his team as he provided four assists to lead his team in that department.
With a perfect record from eight games thus far, the White Swans are well on their way to claim supremacy yet again, unless Tampines start to mirror their title rivals’ form.
This will be easier said than done though, with history counting against the Stags. Tampines are on a seven-game losing streak against the White Swans in all competitions, their last win against the latter coming on 26 October, 2016.
Tampines will at least go into this game feeling fresh, having played their last match more than two weeks ago when they secured a hard-fought 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa. The Stags were due to play Home United in the last round but that game got postponed.
Tampines were previously hampered by a hectic schedule due to AFC Cup commitments, resulting in Tampines playing 12 games at this stage of the season.
Albirex on the contrary will be playing their fourth game in the space of two weeks and their exertions might affect their ability to perform optimally.
Albirex will miss the services of centre-back Shun Kumagai as he continues on his road to recovery from a meniscus tear.
However, they can count on the possible return of captain Wataru Murofushi, who was rested in Albirex’s 3-1 win over Young Lions in their last match.
Their opponents will however have to cope without Khairul Amri, with the striker serving the last of his two-game suspension. Fazrul Nawaz, Jordan Webb and Ryutaro Megumi are expected to form the frontline for Tampines.
Irwan Shah and Safirul Sulaiman are also fighting a race against time to be fit, while Stephen Shannon remains a long-term absentee.
Tampines Rovers: WLDWL
Albirex Niigata (S): WWWWW
26/02/2017 – Albirex 2-1 Tampines Singapore Premier League / Community Shield
19/08/2017 – Albirex 4-0 Tampines Singapore Premier League
13/08/2017 – Albirex 2-0 Tampines (Singapore Cup)
10/08/2017 – Tampines 1-5 Albirex (Singapore Cup)
21/05/2017 – Tampines 1-4 Albirex Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Jordan Webb – Tampines Rovers
With Amri out, the onus will fall on Tampines’ foreign signing Jordan Webb to deliver the goods. Blessed with pace and an eye for goal, the Canadian will be hoping to torment Albirex as much as possible.
Adam Swandi – Albirex Niigata (S)
If the last few games are anything to go by, Adam has truly assimilated into the White Swans’ set-up. The Singaporean is linking up well with his forwards, spraying passes to them and getting into scoring positions himself.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Tampines Rovers Forward Jordan Webb: “When you play a game, you can’t go into the game thinking about the last, you can’t change the past (the 2-1 opening day loss to Albirex). It is it what it is, we have to go out and play our game and hopefully get a win, because that’s what we have to do. We are going there with a mindset to win the game. Every team is a different challenge, for us we are going to win the game, it doesn’t matter if it’s Hougang or Albirex. We just want to take one game at a time and whoever is up next, we have to get a result. They have 24 points but we have three games in hand so we have to win all our game.”
Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “After eight games you can see that we do not really vary our play against different opponents, but of course we do make some adjustments and we will always play to win.”