Tampines to field best 11 against Hougang
Sundram will field strongest Stags side, ahead of Tuesday's National Stadium date with Selangor
HOUGANG UNITED v TAMPINES ROVERS
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
Tampines Rovers will make history next Tuesday when they line up at the National Stadium against Malaysian side Selangor in a must-win AFC Cup Group E fixture.
But, before the Stags become the first Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League side to play at the National Stadium in 10 years - they were also the last when they beat Thai club Chonburi in the 2006 Singapore Cup final - they have the small matter of facing this year's surprise package, Hougang United, tonight.
Despite Tampines' distraction and much-publicised cash-flow issues, Hougang coach Balagumaran believes they are still formidable.
"Knowing how V Sundramoorthy works - he went gone through a lot of difficulties when he was coach of the LionsXII - he will be calm and very focused," said Bala.
"He won't be distracted by these things, and I don't think he will allow his team to be either."
Sundram won the Malaysian Super League with the now-defunct LionsXII side in 2013, with Bala as his assistant.
"They still beat the Warriors 4-2 in last Saturday's game despite all these, and they are a side with quality," added Bala.
Sundram has promised that his Stags will come out with all guns blazing.
"It's very important that we win, close the gap with Albirex Niigata, and stay in touch," said Sundram.
"We're still in with a shout in every competition, and we need a good run in the league to keep things going."
Tampines are second in the nine-team league standings on 20 points, just three adrift of leaders Albirex, who have played one game more.
Hougang are a surprise third, on 16 points.
While Sundram admits that it is a big honour to play at the National Stadium, it does not mean he will go easy on his former colleague.
"Honestly, for a club to play at the National Stadium, with the backing of fans, is something really different for the S.League, and for a match of big importance for us too," he said.
"But we will still play against Hougang with the best team we have available. We've got six days between Hougang and Selangor, and I think the players will have enough time to recover."
With the way Hougang have been playing, Sundram believes his decision is the right one.
"Based on the players they signed, I thought they were one of the dark horses - along with Geylang International - for the title; on their day, they can beat anyone," said Sundram.
Tampines won 4-1 in the two clubs' first meeting in February but, despite the scoreline, Sundram insisted it was no walk in the park.
"In that first game, Hougang had a lot of chances to score than the one they actually did. I'm not surprised they've done well this year," he said.
While Bala believes his charges can match the Stags, he does not believe in putting pressure on his Cheetahs to join the title race.
"I wouldn't say we are title challengers who have to prove something against Tampines - finishing in the top four would already be good for us," he said.
"Tampines do have players with a lot of experience, a complete team with competition in every position on the field, but I still think we can match them."
● Geylang Int'l v Garena Young Lions (7.30pm, Bedok Stadium)
● Albirex Niigata v Balestier Khalsa
(7.30pm, Jurong East Stadium)