Home v Warriors: Old foes, new look
New-look Protectors out to improve on last season's performance
HOME UNITED v WARRIORS FC (Tonight, 7.30pm, Bishan Stadium)
It might be the first game in a long season ahead, but tonight's uniformed derby between Home United and Warriors FC will give an indication of both teams' title credentials in the race for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League crown.
The Protectors - who finished sixth last season - bolstered their squad by retaining core players and signing young talent, leading some pundits to label them as dark horses for the league title.
They are well aware that victory at Bishan Stadium will send a strong message to the rest of the competition.
"There is a lot at stake in the first game," Home winger Faris Ramli told The New Paper. "It's a chance for us to show what we are capable of, and also (the same) for the Warriors."
If last season's statistics are anything to go by, the two sides are not far apart in terms of quality.
They fought out a 2-2 stalemate last July, before Home edged the reverse fixture 2-1. The Warriors eventually finished in fifth spot, just one point more than tonight's rivals.
Since then, the Protectors have snapped up attacking trio Faris, Zulfahmi Arifin and Khairul Nizam from the disbanded LionsXII.
"Home United have made a lot of good new signings," Warriors defender Ismail Yunos told TNP. "They have a lot of young blood - Faris, Irfan and Ikhsan (Fandi Ahmad's two sons).
"They will definitely be raring to go to prove to their worth."
Ismail's side, on the other hand, have shored up a defence which conceded a league-high 51 goals last term, snaring veteran goalkeeper Yazid Yasin, centre back Madhu Mohana and fullbacks Shaiful Esah and Zulfadli Zainal.
Goalscoring could be their problem.
Fazrul Nawaz's departure to star-studded Tampines Rovers means they have lost a striker who chalked up 18 goals last season - the most by a local player.
But Warriors coach Jorg Steinebrunner believes they do have the firepower.
He highlighted his side's pre-season wins against Albirex and Hougang, where five different players scored in the two friendly games.
"When you look at the pre-season games, I'm very happy because our attacking part is not only on one player's shoulders," he said.
The former Geylang International coach also played down the importance of the first game, stressing that his team should be judged over the course of the season.
"Home United always have a good team," he said. "They did well last year during their first year under Philippe (Aw). Definitely, it will be a challenge like any game."
Aw, too, is not expecting an easy run-out against the nine-time champions.
"Any first game in any tournament is a difficult one," he said. "You can play a lot of pre-season games, but the excitement is different.
"Hopefully on the day, we play well, excite the fans and take home the three points."
By the numbers 1
Warriors FC's new striker Jonathan Behe scored only once for Le Mans and didn't record a goal in seven matches for Thai side BEC Tero Sasana. The Frenchman will be hoping to use his 1.87m height to his advantage in the S.League.
There is a lot at stake in the first game. It's a chance for us to show what we are capable of, and also (the same) for the Warriors.
— Home new winger Faris Ramli (above)