Home United and Warriors FC face test of depth
Both teams set to tinker with line-ups and hand opportunities to fringe players
|WARRIORS FC||HOME UNITED|
One team are practically at full strength, while the other will miss nine players.
But fans can still expect a closely fought clash when Warriors FC and Home United kick off the The New Paper League Cup tonight in Group A at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
The Uniformed Derby between two of the most decorated teams in S.League history has always been keenly contested.
With coaches traditionally using the League Cup to hand chances to promising youngsters, tonight's line-ups are expected to feature plenty of raw talents and fringe players.
Warriors coach Razif Onn said he will be handing opportunities to players who have found playing time in the S.League hard to come by, even though he will be missing only defender Baihakki Khaizan, who is suspended.
Players who could be handed starts include midfielder Poh Yi Feng (three league starts) and winger Ridhuan Muhammad (six league starts).
Prime League striker Danial Zulkifli, 18, could also feature.
Said Razif: "I have 24 players in my first-team squad, so I have many options.
"Andrei (Ciolacu, new Romanian striker) has played only one game and needs more playing time, while other players like Poh and Ridhuan, have played only a handful of matches.
"I might give them the opportunity tomorrow but I've already told all my players I expect to see a good level of performance from them, whoever gets the chance."
Razif's opposite number tonight, Home United coach Aidil Sharin, will also look beyond his usual first XI.
Aidil's hand, however, is forced by injuries and international duty.
The trio of defender Irfan Fandi, midfielder Adam Swandi and striker Amiruldin Asraf will all link up with the national Under-22 team, who will play India twice in the coming week in preparation for the South-east Asia Games next month.
He also has five other players - goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, midfielders Aqhari Abdullah, Shamil Sharif, Song Ui Yong and Chris van Huizen - out through injury, while Prime League striker Marijan Suto is also unlikely to be available to face his former club.
But Aidil is unperturbed.
He is likely to draft in several youngsters from Home's undefeated Prime League side into the fold, including left-sided player Iqram Rifqi and national Under-20 midfielder Syed Firdaus.
"I prefer to look at the situation as a blessing in disguise," said Aidil.
"This is a chance for the young ones to come into the first team and show us what they can do.
"Plus, I would rather have this (injury crisis) now than when we have to play the AFC Cup zonal final (on Aug 2 and 9)."
Razif, though is still expecting a stern test from a depleted Home.
"I don't see them struggling," he said.
"I believe Home United have depth, so they will still be able to put out a strong team."
Razif also hopes his charges can kickstart their season with a good showing in the League Cup.
Two months ago, Warriors were level on points with S.League leaders and defending champions Albirex Niigata, second to the Japanese outfit on only goal difference.
But their engine have spluttered since as they won only three of their last eight league matches. They now trail Albirex by seven points.
During this time, they were also knocked out of the RHB Singapore Cup after a shock 4-1 defeat by Cambodian side Boeung Ket.
Razif said that while his players have struggled to recapture their best form, their performances have been satisfactory.
"If you look at our second round of matches, we conceded only one goal in five games, and that was from a penalty (against Tampines Rovers)," he said.
"Having said that, we did not score many goals in those games too, and that's partly down to (mid-season signing) Andrei only coming in and playing in one match.
"Whatever it is, now we have to work harder. Anything can happen in football, and hopefully our performances in the League Cup can boost the team's morale when the league resumes at the end of the month."
- Hougang United v Albirex Niigata (7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)