Stuck at the wrong end of the table, Geylang International and Hougang United face off in a crucial six-pointer on Saturday evening that could decide who will finish bottom this Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.
Different game, same old story for Hougang as they were made to pay for their profligacy in a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of runaway leaders Albirex Niigata FC (S) on Wednesday.
That made it two straight losses, after a promising start to the Clement Teo era with four points from the first two matches.
The Cheetahs are now six points adrift of second-from-bottom Young Lions and a further point away from seventh-placed Geylang, with increasing fears that they will finish as wooden spoonists for the first time since 2015.
It is truly testing times at the Northeast-based club, but Vice-Captain Fabian Kwok believes their recent improved displays have given them a fighting chance of getting out of their rut.
“The team showed fighting spirit against Albirex and we should have gotten a point from that game,” the 29-year-old told FOX Sports Asia. “Despite the results this season, we do have the better chances in most matches, it’s only about finding the finishing touches and I trust that it will come for us soon.
“We have a young and eager squad where all players are fighting for positions in the first eleven, so the competition is high and healthy. The focus is on improving our game each and every time we step onto the field.”
Meanwhile for Geylang, they got a much-needed 3-1 win over Young Lions in midweek to stem a three-match losing streak.
However the victory was tempered by a suspected anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury to key forward Shawal Anuar – who could miss the rest of the season depending on the MRI results.
His absence will be a big blow going into the business end of the season, but strike partner Fairoz Hasan is ready to step up and be the main goal-getter for the Eagles.
“If I have the opportunity to score goals, I will do it for the team,” said the 29-year-old, who is on his season-best tally of five goals to go with three assists. “But ultimately it’s a team game, so all my teammates will surely do their best to chip in with goals as well.
“I’ve enjoyed playing alongside Shawal this season and we complemented each other well; I’m glad that Coach (Hirotaka Usui) experimented with our positioning and it gave me a chance to study his style of play.
“He’s been a crucial player as he is a playmaker and goal-scorer for the team, so I hope he recover as fast as possible to come back and help the team.”
A win for Geylang in this one could push them up to as high as fifth – depending on the result between Brunei DPMM and Balestier Khalsa on the same night – and 10 points clear of Hougang.
However a loss will leave them looking over their shoulders, as the gap between them and Hougang will be reduced to just four points, with the latter still having a game in hand.
TEAM NEWS: Geylang will continue to miss young defender Danish Irfan, who is away on international duty with the Singapore Under-19s, while Shawal is expected to be out for the foreseeable future. The latter’s absence opens up an opportunity for 16-year-old attacker Zikos Chua to have an extended run in the first team.
First-choice goalkeeper Zainol Gulam missed the Young Lions victory through injury, but is expected to be back for this game.
Hougang are sweating on the fitness of wide man Nazrul Nazari, who was substituted early against Albirex due to a shoulder injury, while forward Shahfiq Ghani remains doubtful after missing the last four games due to an ankle injury.
Defender Illyas Lee was not risked against Albirex due to a groin injury, but should recover in time for this one. Midfielder Syahiran Miswan will also return from a one-game suspension.
Geylang International FC: WLLLW
Hougang United FC: LWDLL
12/05/18 Hougang 1-3 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
18/08/17 Hougang 0-1 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
20/05/17 Geylang 1-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
27/02/17 Hougang 2-0 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
20/10/16 Hougang 0-1 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Ryan Syaffiq (Geylang International FC)
Taking down the ball with his chest, he controlled it with his right before lashing home with his left – Ryan’s goal against Young Lions had class written all over it. The 23-year-old has morphed into a much more effective player since joining Geylang in the off-season and his industry down the right flank has helped the team on several occasions.
Iqbal Hussain (Hougang United FC)
After an early-season sparkle with three goals in seven matches, Iqbal has found the going tough lately after returning from injury. Nonetheless the 25-year-old has the technical abilities to trouble any opponent and he will relish his chance of getting back amongst the goals against a side that has conceded the most goals in the league.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Geylang forward Fairoz Hasan: “I got to agree with Coach that we didn’t play to our fullest potential against Young Lions. The quality of our play can be better and we were lucky to win. It serves us a lesson for us not to take it for granted for future games.
“It was a great result, beating Hougang 3-1 away earlier in May. We all trusted each other and worked really hard for that game. I believe we can create such play again if we give our full concentration from the start. It won’t be easy because Hougang just changed their Coach and tactics, but we will fight hard for the three points!”
Hougang midfielder Fabian Kwok: “We have three games coming up in eight days, which is tough but it also gives opportunities to some players to step up and show their worth.
“We go into every game looking for the win because no one likes to lose. We have to continue believing and create chances to win the game. Geylang is still quite close to us in the table… With a game in hand, we definitely want to tighten the gap by getting these three points.”