Tough run-in, but Tampines will take it game by game
Sundram's men face a tough run-in, but Tampines coach is hardly perturbed
If Tampines Rovers are to go on and win their sixth S.League title, they have to do it the hard way, with the schedule ensuring matches against every other team in the top seven in their final five matches.
By beating leaders Brunei DPMM FC 1-0 away last week, the Stags have shown they are up for the challenge.
Starting with tomorrow's match at the Jurong West Stadium against fifth-placed Warriors FC, they will also have to face Balestier Khalsa (third), Home United (sixth), Albirex Niigata (fourth) and Harimau Muda (seventh) over the next three weeks.
While coach V Sundramoorthy knows it will be anything but a cakewalk, he insists fatigue will not be an excuse.
The 50-year-old told The New Paper: "Tired is how people feel when they run marathons. It's not easy but, at the end of 42km, they still find that burst for the last 195 metres.
"You talk about fatigue but this is more about being mentally ready, and we must be mentally ready.
"Every game now will be tough, whether it's against the top team or the bottom team. We can take it only one game at a time.
"There should be no greater motivation for a professional footballer at the end of the season than to know that you have a chance to win the league title, so what is five games?"
For tomorrow's showdown, Sundram would have taken enough notes from Warriors FC's 2-0 win over Hougang and 2-1 defeat by Albirex - with topscorer Fazrul Nawaz grabbing all three goals - to plot a way for his team to continue their title charge.
Once described by Malaysian coach B Sathianathan as a wily fox, Sundram said: "The Warriors have a new coach in Karim Bencherifa, and their team selection is a bit different from before.
"I can't reveal too much but I've watched them play and all I can say is we need to close down their strengths and attack their weaknesses."
The Stags have done a good job of doing just that to their opponents in recent times, winning six of their last seven league matches to heap the pressure on the Bruneian outfit.
They seem to have found the right formula at both ends of the pitch.
While Tampines are the only team to boast two strikers who are into double digits, Sundram believes the defence deserves equal plaudits after keeping 10 clean sheets this season, just one fewer than Albirex.
He added: "It is not only the defence that has done well. The team have defended well generally and the goalkeepers - Joey (Sim) in the earlier part of the season and now Rodrigo (Pacheco) - deserve much credit."
While Tampines have won four matches by three goals or more -the most among all S.League clubs - Sundram will be happy with five 1-0 wins to end the season, even though goal difference will matter if the two frontrunners win their remaining matches.
"If we win both our games in hand even by the smallest margin, we will be ahead of DPMM, so getting the three points is definitely more important than scoring more goals," he said.
"But, of course, if we can get more goals to add to our victories, that would be beautiful."
Perhaps lending credence to Sathianathan's description of a coach who won the 2013 Malaysian Super League with the LionsXII, Sundram then attempted to turn the screw on his title rivals.
He said: "They say football is a funny game and it's true. Look at how we have come from the blind side to be in contention.
"We still have five games to go, DPMM have three. Our boys are doing well, and I've got a feeling some team will come along and trip up DPMM."
BY THE NUMBERS
10 Tampines have kept 10 clean sheets this season.
6 They have won six of their last seven league matches.
4 The Stags have won four matches by three goals or more - the most among all S.League clubs