Tampines Rovers will look to continue pushing for a second-place finish in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) as they take on Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.
With the SPL title already sealed by Albirex Niigata FC (S), the attention now turns to the race for the second spot between Tampines, Home United and Brunei DPMM.
The Stags currently hold the advantage with 33 points from 18 games, while the Protectors are one behind in third having played a game more. Brunei DPMM trail in fourth with 26 points, but they have played just 16 games so far.
Jurgen Raab’s men can hardly afford to slip up then, knowing that once they do so, they may well be overtaken by the other two sides.
But they can take solace knowing that Wednesday’s opponents are a side that they have had no trouble defeating in the past three years.
The Young Lions have not managed to take any points off Tampines in nine straight matches stretching back to 27 September 2015.
They have conceded three or more goals seven times in that span, which includes a 4-0 and 3-1 defeat earlier this year.
But forward Zulfadhmi Suzliman reckons that they cannot simply turn up on Wednesday expecting three points in the bag just like that.
“Young Lions is not an easy team even though they are young… the ball is round and anything can happen in 90 minutes of the match,” said Zulfadhmi.
“We are focused on the upcoming matches as we are eyeing the second place … we are always mentally and phsically prepared for every game because every game is important to us now.”
Meanwhile, Young Lions defender Adam Hakeem knows that his side will have a behemoth task ahead of them, especially given the amount of experience their upcoming opponents possess in the squad.
“I believe the key difference (between us and them) was experience. They had lots of players with tons of experience and were able to break our defence down. We have to stick to our game plan and take our chances against them on Wednesday,” said Adam.
“We will also need to be at our best in defence too, as they could punish us with the players that they have.”
Tampines will be missing veteran centre-back Daniel Bennett due to suspension, while Shannon Stephen and Safirul Sulaiman remain sidelined with injury.
Young Lions will be missing at least three defenders. R Aaravin is out through suspension. Amer Hakeem and captain Taufiq Muqminin are out with injuries. The good news is that they welcome back Adam Hakeem, who played in a friendly against Macau last week, as well as Syahrul Sazali.
Upfront, Ifwat Ismail remains a doubt.
Young Lions: LLWLL
03/06/18: Tampines 3-1 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
30/05/18: Tampines 4-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
28/10/17: Tampines 3-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
12/09/17: Young Lions 0-4 Tampines – Singapore Premier League
23/04/17: Tampines 3-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Young Lions – Ikhsan Fandi
The Young Lions top scorer is without a doubt his team’s main goal threat, and Ikhsan will be needed to lead the way from upfront.
Tampines – Khairul Amri
Against a Young Lions team missing a number of first-team defenders, the striker will have no better opportunity to add to his tally for the season, which stands at 16 – six of which came in his last four matches.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Young Lions defender Adam Hakeem: “(Khairul) Amri is a top player and we will do our best to stop him. However football is a team sport and Tampines have many attackers who are dangerous in front of goal too. We will work on our game plan in training and be ready for them on Wednesday.
“The aim for Young Lions now is to finish at least fifth place. The gap between the fifth and eighth is very close and we believe we will be able to end the season with a mid-table finish.”
Tampines forward Zulfadhmi Suzliman: “We are aiming for the second place and hopefully the Singapore Cup too. But for now, what’s more important is the upcoming league games.”