Can Tampines Rovers make it consecutive victories for the first time this season when they visit Jalan Besar Stadium to take on Young Lions on Wednesday?
Standing in their way is a Young Lions side that is on a sizzling run of form in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
BACKGROUND: With Albirex Niigata FC (S) pulling 17 points clear at the top, it is increasingly unlikely that any teams will be able to catch them in their pursuit of a third straight league title.
However it looks like it is anybody’s game in the race for second spot – which comes with the incentive of playing in AFC competitions in 2019 as foreign teams are not eligible to contest.
Just two points separate the current second-placed (Tampines Rovers – 13) to sixth-placed (Home United FC – 11) teams, while seventh-placed Geylang International FC are not that far off the pace as well with eight points.
Tampines have not thrown in the towel though, with three games in hand giving them the opportunity to whittle down the sizeable point deficit between them and the White Swans.
Fresh off a last-gasp 2-1 victory away at Geylang in the Eastern Derby, the Stags are looking to achieve successive wins for the first time this season with Young Lions up next.
The two sides will face off at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday, before coming up against each other again four nights later at Our Tampines Hub.
Fandi Ahmad’s Young Lions have been a breath of fresh air this season with a number of credible performances along the way, as they sit in fourth with 12 points from eight matches.
Thus Tampines midfielder Yasir Hanapi is not taking things for granted in this upcoming double-header.
“Young Lions are a team who will run and make us work for the full 90 minutes,” the 28-year-old told FOX Sports Asia. “We have to use our experience wisely to overcome this challenge.
“It’s important for us to get a run of wins together, if not we’ll be further away from Albirex. It’s best for us not to look at the table now as we can’t change it. We just have to keep winning and hope Albirex lose points along the way.”
The Young Lions’ rise has been largely down to the recent sparkling form of front man Ikhsan Fandi – who has struck three goals in as many matches after failing to net even once in his previous 19 SPL appearances.
The 19-year-old is now looking forward to net for a fourth game running and to help his side to extend their unbeaten streak to four.
“I feel that my form is coming back after (completing) NS (National Service), but I will keep my head down and keep on working hard for more goals in the future,” said Ikhsan, who also scored three goals for the Singapore Under-21s in the recent Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy.
“I’ve trained with Daniel (Bennett) and Farra (Fahrudin Mustafic) in the (Singapore) national team so I know how they play. Every game is a new challenge and I’m ready to take them down.”
History favors Tampines in this fixture though, having won the last seven head-to-heads. Their last defeat to the Young Lions was back in September 2015, where the game was decided by a M. Anumanthan long-range stunner at the Stags’ old home at Jurong West.
TEAM NEWS: For the Young Lions, wide men Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Naqiuddin Eunos are likely to miss out again as they continue their recovery from injuries.
As for Tampines, Shannon Stephen and Safirul Sulaiman are still out injured while young Irfan Najeeb remains doubtful. Hafiz Sujad is also not available due to registration issues. However they will welcome back Captain Fahrudin and talismanic forward Khairul Amri from suspension.
Young Lions: DLWDD
Tampines Rovers FC: DLWLW
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
15/10/16 Young Lions 1-3 Tampines – Singapore Premier League
14/06/16 Tampines 6-1 Young Lions – Singapore Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Adam Hakeem (Young Lions)
After just one substitute appearance in the first five matches, Adam – eldest son of Assistant Coach Nazri Nasir – impressed in his first start of the season in a 2-1 win at Hougang United and he has retained his spot in the lineup in subsequent two matches. The 21-year-old has not just dominated the backline with his imposing 1.92m frame, but also showed the ability to produce raking crossfield passes to the attackers.
Ryutaro Megumi (Tampines Rovers FC)
Injury issues meant Megumi started the season slowly, but the 24-year-old is now starting to get back into the groove with two goals in the last two matches. The Japanese winger’s pace and trickery will pose a big threat to the Young Lions – which have not kept a clean sheet since their second game of the season against Warriors FC.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Young Lions forward Ikhsan Fandi: “I badly wanted to score my first SPL goal previously, so I was putting too much pressure on myself to score and that made me very frustrated. But I just tried to stay calm, work hard, just play football and I knew the goal will come. I’m taking it one game at a time now and I hope to score in every match – that should be every striker’s goal. Hopefully I’ll have a bunch of goals by the end of the season.”
Tampines midfielder Yasir Hanapi: “It was important for us to beat Geylang because we cannot afford to lose points. We had a little problem with the pitch (at Bedok Stadium) for some parts of the game, but I’m glad we got the three points in the end. It’s nice to see local players like Ikhsan scoring goals for their clubs, but I believe my defenders will do whatever it takes to stop him in this game.”