Home looking to end poor run
Home United out to end poor run and prove a point against league leaders Albirex
ALBIREX NIIGATA v HOME UNITED
(Saturday, 8pm, Jurong East Stadium)
After an excellent run of form saw them emerge as possible challengers for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title, Home United now find their backs against the wall.
A five-game winning run in all competitions prior to the mid-season break was brought to a halt by a 2-2 draw with bottom side Garena Young Lions last week.
Things got worse on Tuesday with a 3-1 defeat by second-from-bottom Balestier Khalsa.
Next up is arguably the toughest of all tests when they visit leaders Albirex Niigata this evening, a task made even tougher with coach Philippe Aw set to be missing from the dugout for the second game running due to a family bereavement.
In his absence, assistant coach Robin Chitrakar will be the one looking to halt the Protectors' slump in what he admits is "an uphill task".
"Of course, it's disappointing that we did well before the break and, right after that, we've already dropped five points since," he told The New Paper.
"It definitely isn't going to be easy, but we have to be able to deal with it.
"What I can guarantee is that the boys are eager to go out there and do something about it."
Home could be dealt another blow, with French defender Sirina Camara struggling with knock to his knee, although they are set to welcome back Danish marksman Ken Ilso after he was sidelined for the clash with Balestier with an ankle injury.
One of the Protectors' strengths this season has been their irrepressible attack comprising Ilso, Azhar Sairudin, Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli, who have combined for 19 of their 26 goals.
With his third-placed side now 13 points off the pace, Azhar believes it is time they prove themselves as contenders and not pretenders.
The Singapore international said: "With the quality of players we have, I don't see why we can't be title contenders.
"We needed some time to gel, given we had new players like Faris, Zulfahmi (Arifin) and Nizam coming in but, from the previous good run we had, you can see we're really starting to gel.
"We're hoping this game against Albirex can be a real turning point.
"It's going to be tough and we'll need the senior players to lift the team, so hopefully I can be one of them."
The stakes are certainly high for Home tomorrow and another defeat could see even more doubts raised over their title credentials.
Nonetheless, Protectors centre back Abdil Qaiyyim insists the situation they find themselves in will ensure he and his teammates will have no lack of motivation when they come up against the league leaders.
"It's obviously going to be a difficult game and we are fully aware what's on the line," added the 27-year-old.
"But we're going to go out there to do our best and try to win it for coach Philippe."
Albirex Niigata v Home United (8pm, Jurong East Stadium)
Geylang International v Hougang United (8pm, Bedok Stadium)
Garena Young Lions v Brunei DPMM (8pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Naruo demands improvement
It will be a tough game because Home can move the ball well even under pressure... Home also have players with plenty of ability and winning the individual battles will be important. — Albirex coach Naoki Naruo (far right) - SPH FILE PHOTO
Most coaches would be satisfied with two wins in six days, while maintaining a seven-point lead at the top of the table.
But, given how good his players have been this season, Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo could be forgiven for being disappointed by their last two displays in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Following the international break, the White Swans resumed their league campaign by throwing away a two-goal lead, needing a last-gasp winner to see off Warriors FC 3-2.
And, two days ago, they found themselves a goal down at half-time against Hougang United, who were winless in five matches, before hitting back to claim a 2-1 victory.
"It has been difficult to carry over our momentum from before the break," Naruo admitted to The New Paper.
"We haven't shown our usual quality in attack and we have looked very vulnerable to counter-attacks.
"The goals we've conceded have been either from individual mistakes or set-pieces, so that's something we want to improve on.
"Our opponents will always be analysing us and finding areas to exploit, although we still managed to get the victories.
"Now, we will aim to continue winning and regain the initiative."
Albirex's next opponents are Home United tomorrow, whom they beat 3-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in their last meeting in April, courtesy of an Atsushi Kawata hat-trick.
However, Naruo is the first to admit that the scoreline did not provide an accurate reflection of the contest, and is aware the Protectors will pose a genuine threat despite being winless in their last two matches.
The Japanese tactician said: "In the last game against Home, our goals came from set-pieces and I felt we didn't work well as a team.
"It will be a tough game because Home can move the ball well even under pressure, so we need to be organised in defence and make use of what we've learnt in the past two games.
"Home also have players with plenty of ability and winning the individual battles will be important."
While Albirex are currently on course to winning their maiden S.League crown, Naruo insists he is not entertaining such thoughts at the moment.
"I'm not thinking about the title race," he said.
"(Second-placed) Tampines are a very strong team, while I felt that (defending champions) Brunei DPMM were also very dangerous when we played them.
"Yet, Home managed to score five goals against DPMM earlier this season, so I believe they are very strong… All we need to focus on right now is the game against them." - GABRIEL TAN