Photo Credit: Football Association of Singapore
It is no secret that the basis for a team’s success is a strong home record and Tampines are on the right track with five wins and two draws in the league since returning to their refurbished facility in the east.
Healthy crowd figures have also been reported at the Stags’ matches at OTH – their 3-1 Eastern Derby win over Geylang International FC a little over a week ago attracted 3,373 fans.
That has buoyed Tampines captain Fahrudin Mustafic as they seek to extend their unbeaten home run to eight against Hougang.
“I still remember our first game back against Brunei DPMM (FC) in July last year – it was a little bit strange because we were not used to playing on an artificial pitch,” the 36-year-old recalled. “But now we look much better with more games and are playing really good football at the moment.”
“We always have our fans coming to back us and it was nice to play in front of such a crowd in our last game. It’s really important for us to make it a fortress and make things tough for the visiting teams.”
The new SPL rules that mandate at least six Under-23 players in a squad and reduce the maximum possible number of foreigners from three to two might have made it tougher for Juergen Raab’s men to compete on the continental stage, but Mustafic is keen for the Stags – knocked out of the AFC Cup – to take the positives into the domestic front.
“It wasn’t easy to adapt with all the new rules… But we’ve been improving in our last two (AFC Cup) games and that shows that we’re on the right way. Now we just have to concentrate on the league and try to catch Albirex.”
The Stags, who sit fourth with three points, will look to chase down early pace-setters Albirex Niigata FC (S) – nine points from three games – but it will be a tricky prospect against Hougang on Wednesday night.
With just one points from their first two games, the Cheetahs are yearning for their first win and Philippe Aw’s side are still trying to get things right in the attacking third.
They will take heart from a battling second-half display against Warriors FC, which saw them score late on to salvage a 1-1 draw.
Attacker Fareez Farhan came off the bench that evening to win and score the equalizing penalty and that should have done enough to earn him a starting berth against Tampines.
“It won’t be easy against Tampines with Farra (Mustafic) and (Daniel) Bennett at the back – two experienced players who have played the game for so long,” the 23-year-old said.
“But the thing about Hougang (is that) we have players with speed. If we can get behind them during the game, we have the chance to score some goals and win.”
TEAM NEWS Tampines have a full-strength squad to call upon, bar long-term injury victim Shannon Stephen.
As for Hougang, French-Italian forward Antoine Viterale will miss out due to an ankle injury sustained against Warriors while Jordan Chan continues his recovery from a shoulder operation.
First-choice goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid is also a doubt due to a groin injury, but key forward Shahfiq Ghani could be back after a slight groin injury forced him to miss out the last time out.
09/09/17: Tampines 5-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
25/05/17: Hougang 0-3 Tampines – Singapore Premier League
03/03/17: Tampines 2-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
17/08/16: Tampines 1-2 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
13/07/16: Tampines 6-4 Hougang – League Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Jordan Webb – Tampines
Webb was the star of the show the last time out at OTH, with his brace helping the Stags to prevail in the Eastern Derby. The Canadian winger – who has speed and trickery – is now back in full flow after missing large chunks of pre-season due to injury and that can only spell danger for his old employers.
Illyas Lee – Hougang
After impressing as a midfielder for the Young Lions last year, Lee has completed two full games for his new club at the heart of defence. The Singapore Under-23 captain marshalled the Cheetahs backline well alongside Englishman Adam Mitter against Warriors and he will need to carry that momentum against Khairul Amri and company.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Tampines defender Mustafic: “Albirex’s definitely the favourites to win the title again but it’s still early into the season. We just have to concentrate on ourselves and take points to stay close to them, before we meet them again.
“Jordan and Megu (Ryutaro) Megumi are quality players who have speed and are good with one-on-ones, while Amri is still one of the best strikers in the league. These three players will make the difference for us this year.”
Hougang forward Fareez: “We have not won any game yet, but I believe we can start doing so if we continue to play good football, retain possession and convert our chances. With time and more understanding, we can definitely improve on our combination play in attack.
“Our team is full of quality and it’s very good competition for starting places. I just hope to get the chance to start against Tampines.”