Amri's return sparks Young Lions
Fit-again Amri key to Young Lions' hopes as giants Stags loom
TAMPINES ROVERS v GARENA YOUNG LIONS
(Tonight, 8pm, Jurong West Stadium)
Surprise, surprise: The Garena Young Lions are on a three-match unbeaten run in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League. And they are eager to continue that run against giants Tampines Rovers tonight, when they visit the Jurong West Stadium.
Before the season kicked off, few would have thought the Under-21 developmental side stood a chance of stringing a few positive results together.
Comprising a number of S.League rookies, with only three senior players, the team were expected to struggle against vastly more experienced S.League sides.
While it has been a slog for the youngsters - they are bottom of the standings - there are signs the Young Lions are getting better.
The 2-2 draw with Home United in their last game snapped the Protectors' five-game winning streak and showed just how far the youngsters have come after six months.
Singapore star striker Khairul Amri, one of three senior players in the team, is not surprised that his teammates are starting to show their mettle.
"It was only a matter of time," said the 31-year-old national striker.
"These boys have something... But they are not polished yet.
"They still don't know how to transfer the work done in training into matches.
"At the start of the season, coach (Patrick Hesse) asked for more time and now you can see why."
Amri, who seems to have shaken off injury problems which plagued him at the start of the season, played a key role in the draw with Home.
He opened the scoring for the young outfit after 22 minutes with a superb volley taken on the run.
Then, he created his side's second by bamboozling two defenders with a series of stepovers, twists and a nutmeg, before delivering a cross which fellow senior Firdaus Kasman eventually scored from.
Some less-than-impressive goalkeeping - by the team's third senior member of the squad, French goalkeeper Benjamin Bertrand - allowed Home to fight back and earn a point.
Recent results have given the team a huge morale boost ahead of another tough assignment tonight, against one of Amri's former clubs.
Amri, who wore the captain's armband against Home, is relishing his "big brother" role.
"Usually, I will pull them aside in training and talk about game situations, show them why doing something is good or bad," he said.
"And on game day, I will try pump them up by saying something in the dressing room before we go out.
"Also, if I see a player who I can sense is maybe feeling a bit kancheong (anxious) before the game, I will try calm him down and keep focus."
Young Lions' midfielder Ammirul Emmran said the experience of national players like Amri and Firdaus has helped them.
"They mainly give us advice before matches and during training, telling us what we should or should not do," said the 21-year-old.
"And in matches, they guide us about things like how to manage the tempo of the game.
"From day one, they have really helped us a lot with their experience and advice, and we've all learnt a lot from them."
Even though Firdaus is suspended for tonight's match, Ammirul insists he and his teammates are up for the challenge.
"The morale of the team is really high now, even though we did not manage the win against Home," he said.
"The main thing is our performance and our recent games show we are going in the right direction."
And on game day, I will try pump them up by saying something in the dressing room before we go out. Also, if I see a player who I can sense is maybe feeling a bit kancheong (anxious) before the game, I will try calm him down and keep focus.
— Garena Young Lions striker Khairul Amri