It's do-or-die. Last chance saloon for Home
Protectors bank on squad harmony and form of star attacking duo in Albirex test
|HOME UNITED||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
For Home United, an entire season's work will boil down to 90 minutes at the Bishan Stadium tonight.
Anything less than three points against the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League leaders Albirex Niigata, and Home can virtually kiss their title hopes goodbye.
Win, and they will crank the pressure right back on the defending champions as the season enters its business end.
Home are currently third on the table, 16 points behind the White Swans but with four games in hand.
However, at Home's training session yesterday evening, there was no sign of tension. Instead, the players were their usual jovial selves.
Midfielder Song Ui Yong saw defender Irfan Fandi doing bench presses and playfully announced: "Wow! Irfan working so hard... What a day!"
And as The New Paper was speaking to S.League top scorer Stipe Plazibat, midfielder Hariss Harun interrupted and joked: "Please write this down: Stipe has a big nose, and he is second-bottom in our FPL (Fantasy Premier League) table this week."
Chuckling, Plazibat shushed Hariss and said: "We (all the players) always disturb one another.
"It's normal here. We all click with one another, and there's always jokes around."
They have been very consistent this season, they always look forward to these sort of games and are boosted by the occasion. Home United coach Aidil Sharin on Faris Ramli and Stipe Plazibat
But, once on the pitch, Plazibat and Co. usually mean business.
Plazibat himself has plundered 31 goals this season - 19 in the league - and Home will be counting on his lethal partnership with Singapore winger Faris Ramli (13 goals, nine in the league) to pierce Albirex's stingy backline.
The White Swans boast the S.League's meanest defence, having conceded just 12 goals in 19 games.
Plazibat said their recent form - he has scored in 12 of his 13 league matches while Faris has scored five times in Home's last three games - has given them belief they can fire Home to victory over the Japanese side.
"Goals and assists are crucial for attackers, and when you do it consistently, you have more confidence," he said.
The chemistry between the duo off the pitch has also helped in their understanding on it.
Plazibat has dubbed Faris "CCTV" because the winger is always quick to whip out his smartphone and record videos of his teammates to put up on Instagram.
On the other hand, Faris calls the former Hajduk Split man "nose", because of his sizeable sniffer.
Faris said with a grin: "There's a good vibe around the team.
"We have been looking forward to this match for some time, and we are not worried about winning or losing.
"We will just give our all and we know we are capable of pulling off something special.
"We've been training hard, and we are going to carry that into the game tomorrow."
Home coach Aidil Sharin is backing Faris and Plazibat to lead the way for the Protectors again tonight.
"They are big-game players, simple as that," he said.
"They have been very consistent this season, they always look forward to these sort of games and are boosted by the occasion."
Home will be aided by the suspension of Albirex top scorer Tsubasa Sano, who has 18 league goals this term.
The 22-year-old striker is serving the second game of his two-match suspension for a red card picked up against the Garena Young Lions on Sept 8.
Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee said: "This is a chance for other players to step up.
"Like when he was injured in the RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final against Tampines, other players like Shoichiro Sakamoto, Ryuya Motoda and Kento Nagasaki all scored (in a 7-1 aggregate win).
"The strength of Albirex is we play as a team, not depend on one individual."
Koh acknowledged Home's firepower, but said he was confident the White Swans have what it takes to see off the threat.
"We have the best defence in the league right now, but tomorrow will be a severe test," he said.
"Having said that, I think our attack is also not weak.
"And we have not beaten Home in the last two meetings in the S.League, so we want to pick up the win."
- Brunei DPMM v Hougang United (8.15pm, Bandar Seri Begawan)
- Tampines Rovers v Warriors FC (7.30pm, Our Tampines Hub)
- Garena Young Lions v Balestier Khalsa (7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Three key battles
SIRINA CAMARA (Home, No. 11) v HIROYOSHI KAMATA (Albirex Niigata, No. 8)
The battle of the speedsters.
Frenchman Camara will play either on the left side of defence or midfield.
In either role, he will be key to shackling Kamata, who has been an ever-present for Albirex this season.
Formerly a winger, Kamata has revelled as a right back this season and needs no second invitation to bomb forward.
FARIS RAMLI (Home, No. 10) v SHUTO INABA (Albirex, No. 6)
National team star Faris is on course to take his goals into double-digits in a single season for the first time.
Usually either playing as an orthodox winger or as a shadow striker behind Stipe Plazibat, Faris often drifts into the centre with the ball, wreaking havoc.
This is where Albirex midfield hardman and skipper Inaba will have a big role to play - to thwart Faris' dangerous runs.
IZZDIN SHAFIQ (Home, No. 13) v KENTO NAGASAKI (Albirex, No. 10)
Home's midfield enforcer Izzdin may not have national team partner Hariss Harun alongside him - Hariss may start in defence - but he will have to keep a close watch on Nagasaki nontheless.
The White Swans' No. 10 is one of the classiest central midfielders in the S.League and has an eye for the killer ball, threading inch-perfect passes for Albirex's willing runners.
Nagasaki is also deadly over a free-kick.