Photo credit: Football Association of Singapore
The question on everyone’s lips before the season started was: how can Home challenge for silverware after losing so many key players?
Hassan Sunny, Irfan Fandi, Faris Ramli and 37-goal machine Stipe Plazibat – all of whom played prominent roles in their road the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Final and a third-place finish in the league departed Bishan Stadium.
However, the Protectors’ class of 2018 showed that they are not too far behind by seeing off champion sides from Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar to qualify for the AFC Cup Zonal semi-finals as Group F winners.
Success does come at a price though as Aidil Sharin’s side face the daunting task of seven matches in 25 days in May, with the first being a clash with Hougang this Wednesday.
The Protectors will need attackers Song Ui-young and Shahril Ishak to continue their rich vein of form, with the former bagging six goals and two assists in all competitions while the latter is the only player to have scored in every SPL match so far.
With a nine-point gap between them and leaders Albirex Niigata FC (S), Home will target victory to move up from their current sixth place.
“It’s going to be tough, especially with the next five games in 14 days so we have to manage (ourselves) very carefully,” Song said.
“For myself, I just have to focus on my job, which is to break the opponent’s defence and score goals for the team. I’m happy to be partners with Shahril in attack, he’s a genius and a great player who I can learn from.”
For Hougang, they are still searching for their first league win as they sit second-from-bottom with two draws and two defeats. It is their worst start to a campaign since 2015, when they only got their first win at the 11th time of asking – they finished bottom that year.
“It’s not the start that we wanted, but we’re raring to go for this game,” goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid said. “We need to start picking up points and climb up the table.
“The HOOLs (hardcore Hougang supporters’ group) deserve something for what they have done for us all these years and we want to put up a good performance for them.”
TEAM NEWS The game has come too soon for Hougang forward Antoine Viterale as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury, while team-mate Jordan Chan is also out due to a shoulder problem. Meanwhile, Home’s French defender Sirina Camara is unavailable for a third game running due to injury.
26/11/17: Home 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Cup
15/10/17: Hougang 0-2 Home – Singapore Premier League
10/07/17: Home 1-1 Hougang – League Cup
30/06/17: Home 2-3 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
09/04/17: Hougang 0-2 Home – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Nazrul Nazari – Hougang
Unexpectedly left on the bench in the last game, Nazrul came on and almost grabbed the winner as a substitute. That puts the wide man well in contention to return into the starting eleven.
The 27-year-old’s blistering pace will come in handy against former LionsXII teammate Shakir Hamzah as he looks to provide the ammunition for Iqbal Hussain and company.
Izzdin Shafiq – Home
Being selected for the Protectors captaincy this season seems to have done Izzdin a world of good as he has rediscovered the form that saw him emerge as one of the most promising midfielders in the country.
The 27-year-old has a pass-success rate of over 80 percent for half their AFC Cup matches this season, and his vision and distribution is a key component of Aidil’s game-plan.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin: “I have a much-changed defence in front of me this season and it’s key for us to communicate well with each other. Apart from stopping Shahril and Song, we have to win the battle in midfield. If we can do that, we stand a chance of causing an upset.”
Home midfielder Song: “Last year my season was disrupted by injuries so I’m taking really good care this year to avoid them. I’ve gotten great help from my teammates to score goals so far, but it’s still a long way from what I’ve set out to achieve. I feel the responsibility this year as each team only get two foreigners.”