Free-scoring Tampines aim to hurt Albirex
Stags looking to take down White Swansd to narrow the gap at the top
TAMPINES ROVERS v ALBIREX NIIGATA
(Tomorrow, 8pm, Jurong West Stadium)
On current form, Tampines Rovers have the S.League's hottest attack, after plundering 13 goals in their last three games.
That's a goal roughly every 20 minutes.
If there is one team that look strong enough at the back to end the Stags' hot streak, they are leaders Albirex Niigata, whom they face tomorrow in potentially the biggest game of the season in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
The White Swans are not only on a 10-match winning run, but they also boast the league's stingiest defence, conceding just 11 goals in 15 games, and keeping clean sheets in nine of those matches.
However, it is worth noting that Albirex have been wobbly of late at the back, conceding five goals in their last three games.
Ahead of the two teams' mammoth clash at the Jurong West Stadium, it is an area of Albirex's game that Tampines coach Akbar Nawas has zeroed in on.
"It's definitely something we are looking at," he told The New Paper, ahead of the potential title-decider.
"We're analysing the goals they have conceded to see where we can maybe capitalise."
Akbar has had a flying start to his tenure as Tampines coach, after taking over the reins from V. Sundramoorthy, who was appointed national coach earlier this month.
While Sundram was known for his methodical approach, Akbar has thrown caution to the wind, playing two out-and-out strikers in Billy Mehmet and Fazrul Nawaz, supported by two attack-minded midfielders, Jordan Webb and marquee man Jermaine Pennant.
After the mid-season break, Akbar's Tampines beat last year's champions Brunei DPMM 4-3, thumped the Garena Young Lions 6-1 and edged out Balestier Khalsa 3-2. The rookie S.League coach, however, pointed to the fact that Albirex beat Home United 5-2 in their last game, and possess the league's most productive attack, with 38 goals.
Even with their recent renaissance, Tampines are second-best with 33 goals.
Said Akbar: "The last time we played them at Jurong East (in April), they sat back and hit us on the counter (to win 1-0).
"How they will shape up this Friday, I'm not sure. Whatever it is, we have to be prepared.
"We have to make sure we are able to counter them while sticking to what we have done well."
Akbar has his reasons to be confident, and one is the resurgence of striker Fazrul.
The 30-year-old has arguably been the S.League's most consistent goalscorer over the past few seasons, but struggled in the first half of this year, scoring just twice in 11 appearances.
As his confidence suffered, he began missing gilt-edged opportunities for both club and country.
But, of late, he has been on fire as part of Tampines' electrifying front four, scoring four times in the last three games.
Webb (four), Mehmet (two) and Pennant (two) have also been among the goals.
Said Fazrul: "I told myself to look at the top-class players and how they go about pushing themselves even after missing many chances.
"I also told myself that the important thing was that I was getting into goalscoring positions...
"Now, my confidence has gone back up. And it's not just me, the whole team are confident."
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo suggested his side would look to tighten things at the back.
"We have been letting in goals from counter-attacks in the last three games, so we will aim for a more stable game," he said.
"The goals we have conceded are down to a lack of communication and individual mistakes.
"Tampines' four strikers are very speedy and have good technique, but... we will have our own chances in the game too, so we must focus on taking them."