Tampines won't surrender
Title Albirex's to lose, but Stags vow to extend challenge
TAMPINES ROVERS v DPMM
(Tomorrow, 7.30pm, Jurong West Stadium)
They trail Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League leaders Albirex Niigata by seven points and, with just four games left to play in the season, Tampines Rovers' chase for the championship is fading by the day.
But there will be no white flag flown over the Jurong West Stadium when the Stags host third-placed Brunei DPMM tomorrow.
Indeed, Akbar Nawas is determined to force the title challenge as far down the wire as possible.
Tampines coach Akbar Nawas. TNP FILE PHOTO
"Let's be honest, it is Albirex's title to lose. But, on our part, we just have to try and win every game that we play and I want the boys to have the same approach every time we step out onto the pitch," he told The New Paper yesterday.
"There's no way we are throwing in the towel, but I don't want the players to think about the title.
"Right now, we want to make sure we consolidate second place in the league."
Albirex are on 47 points, Tampines have amassed 40, just two ahead of outgoing champions DPMM, who have played two games more.
Tampines have struggled with injuries, with striker Fazrul Nawaz and midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman still not ready to return.
While they still have the RHB Singapore Cup final - against Albirex - to think about, there will be no squad rotation.
"Fazrul and Shahdan are still not back in the squad yet, and (captain Mustafic) Fahrudin will start from the bench, but we will not be resting players until the league title is mathematically out of reach, it is not over," was Akbar's battle cry.
Consolidation of second place in the nine-team league will start against DPMM.
"The game against DPMM will not be an easy one. Rafael Ramazotti is always a threat, he's one of the best forwards in the league in a while, but it's not just about him," said Akbar.
"He can bring others into the game with his clever lay-offs and we have to be mindful about those around him as well."
Ramazotti is well clear at the top of the league's goalscorers' charts with 20 to his name.
Home United's Ken Ilso is his closest challenger with 15 goals.
Akbar, though, vows to attack the visitors' tomorrow and his confidence stems from having over a week on the training ground with his charges.
Their last match was a 0-0 draw with Indian side Bengaluru in the second leg of the AFC Cup quarter-final (the Stags were knocked out 1-0 on aggregate).
"From a coaching viewpoint, it has been a good week for us. We've been able to fix several things after that AFC game. We've had a look at videos, had the players do reflection exercises and we've been able to look at details - important basics - that we may have overlooked," said Akbar, pointing to issues of players knowing their roles, and team transition between attack and defence.
"We're started rectifying problems that we've spotted and we want to make sure that what we've worked on will be translated onto the pitch when we play."