Balestier Khalsa and Home United will battle it out this Saturday at the Singapore National Stadium after the Singapore Premier League (SPL) moved the game to the grand venue.
This will be the first of four SPL fixtures to be played at the venue and the Protectors will be looking to take their superb AFC Cup form into domestic football.
BACKGROUND: Home United began their SPL season with a convincing 3-1 win over Balestier, looking ready to mount a serious title challenge.
However, six games later, the Protectors find themselves behind the pace by 11 points and sitting in fifth place. Two back-to-back 3-3 league draws with Hougang United and Warriors FC did not help their cause too.
There is plenty of catching up to do, especially with league leaders Albirex looking relentless on their title charge, and Home will be aiming for maximum points as a result.
Morale will be high in the Bishan-based club’s camp, especially after they qualified for their second consecutive AFC Cup ASEAN zonal finals.
But it will not be an easy task against a well-rested Tigers outfit, which gave third-placed Brunei DPMM a run for their money before succumbing to a 2-1 loss in the last round.
Balestier were resilient against the Bruneians and could have walked away with at least a point, only for DPMM goalkeeper Haimie Nyaring to thwart their efforts.
The Protectors will also have to ward off fatigue, coming into the game on the back of a grueling AFC Cup encounter with Persija Jakarta four days prior.
They might have earned a morale-boosting 3-1 win in Indonesia but the game was of a high intensity and Balestier are known to be a physical side which will bully their opponents into submission if the opportunity presents itself.
TEAM NEWS: Home United might have played a mid-week game due to their AFC Cup commitments but the team look to have come away unscathed.
This bodes well for Home United Head Coach Aidil Sharin, who will need to rotate his squad and have as many fresh legs on as possible.
Balestier on the other hand, will have three confirmed absentees according to their club officials. Goalkeeper Nazri Sabri contends with a dislocated finger while Sheikh Abdul Hadi is hampered by an Achilles injury. Raihan Rahman is a long-term absentee with an ACL tear.
Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic also said front man Keegan Linderboom, who missed the Tigers’ last game, is a doubt and will almost certainly not start the game, even if he is named in the match-day squad.
Home United: WWDDW
Balestier Khalsa: LLWDW
PREVIOUS FIVE MEETINGS:
04/04/18 – Home United 3-1 Balestier Khalsa
20/10/17 – Home United 2-0 Balestier Khalsa
03/07/17 – Balestier Khalsa 1-2 Home United
02/05/17 – Home United 1-0 Balestier Khalsa
15/10/16 – Balestier Khalsa 0-5 Home United
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Noor Akid Nordin – Balestier Khalsa
Last year, Balestier looked bereft of ideas going forward and their inability to score was perhaps what hurt them the most. But they appear to have solved that conundrum after finding the back of the net in six of their last eight games.
Noor Akid could have been part of the solution, with the tricky winger willing to take on his markers and make the darting runs that was sorely lacking for his side in the previous season.
The forward was also a menace against DPMM and he will be looking to add to his goal tally against Home.
Shahril Ishak – Home United
It is hard to argue who is the more dangerous of the two players between Shahril Ishak and Song Ui-Young right now, given the form they are in.
Both players have been in free-scoring mood for the Protectors and combined to devastating effect against Persija to lead Home into the AFC Cup ASEAN zonal finals.
However, all eyes should be on Shahril for his sheer experience. The veteran forward may have lost the pace he had when he was younger but he is timing his runs to perfection and making the correct decisions in the final third.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “Lots of confidence now in Home but we are going there to win the game. We don’t think about Home United, we think about ourselves. If we give a good performance, we can draw or even win the game. Also, it is not every day that there will be sunshine, some days it will rain, but Shahril is in top form now. I have not seen him scoring like this in a long time and we have to be very careful. We are working hard to stop this two, him and Song (Ui-Yong).”
Home United forward Shahril Ishak: “The morale is very good. Even before the game, our morale has been very good. Fatigue is not an excuse for us to prepare for the next game. The boys are focused on recovery as of now. It’s not easy playing in the AFC Cup and to play our league game four days later. The intensity of an AFC Cup game is so a lot higher than a SPL game. So recovery will be key before we head into our next match.”