KEEN TO LAY DOWN A MARKER
Great Eastern Charity Shield
TAMPINES ROVERS v HOME UNITED
(Tomorrow, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Juma'at Jantan's message to his Home United teammates is simple - it's time to hit the ground running.
The RHB Singapore Cup champions kick off the new Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season tomorrow against Tampines Rovers in a plum Charity Shield tie at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Last season, the Protectors lost three and drew one of their first six league matches, picking up a mere seven points from a possible 18.
They eventually finished second, five points behind champions Tampines.
With this year's Great Eastern Charity Shield doubling up as an S.League match, experienced fullback Juma'at says it is vital Home announce their title ambitions from the get-go.
"We didn't start off well last year and ended up second, so it's important we don't make the same mistake this time," the 29-year-old said yesterday.
"I really want to win the title for the first time in my career, and I know my teammates also want to go one better.
"We need to gain the momentum of winning games, and the earlier we can do that, the better.
"But it will be a big game and as champions, I'm sure Tampines will be up for it, too."
The Bishan-based club announced their new kit deal with Puma yesterday.
With strength right through the side and a strong bench, the Protectors are even touted as favourites for this year's S.League crown, ahead of Tampines, who have been champions on the last three occasions.
South Korean coach Lee Lim Saeng knows full well the psychological impact a negative result in the season's curtain-raiser could have on his team.
The Protectors were outclassed 2-0 by Tampines in the 2012 clash, and went on to draw their first three S.League matches.
They finished fifth that season, 12 points adrift of the Stags.
But Lee does not want to put pressure on his charges.
He said: "The first game is always important, but I haven't talked to the players much about (the significance of) Friday's match, because I don't want to stress them.
"I want to let them focus on what they have to do.
"But, I have seen a mental, physical and technical change in my team from last season, and I'm confident they will give a good performance against Tampines."
He will have his work cut out for him, though.
Eight of his 22-man squad are carrying injuries, and they include three South Korean imports - Song Ui Yong (ankle), Song In Young (knee) and Kwon Da Kyung (ankle).
Long-term injury victims and Singapore internationals Fazrul Nawaz (head), Indra Sahdan (leg) and skipper Noh Rahman (knee) are also at least a month away from returning to action.
"I have a headache thinking about what team to put out," Lee said yesterday. "But we will do our best to overcome these problems."
Still, Juma'at believes the team have enough in them to get the result they want against Tampines.
The former Singapore international says they benefited greatly from a two-week training camp in Kunming, China.
They beat the second-string side of Chinese Super League (CSL) team Beijing Guo'an 1-0 and drew 2-2 with the second-string team of another CSL club, Jiangsu Sainty.
The other two matches were losses to second-tier teams Yanbian Tigers (5-0) and Chongqing Lifan (1-0).
Said Juma'at: "The results in Kunming were mixed, but the trip really helped us a lot in other ways.
"It helped us bond and gel better as teammates, and I think it was a great boost in preparing us for the season ahead."