Pennant may not be handed S.League start
Pennant may not start, but still hopes to make an impact for Tampines
TAMPINES ROVERS v GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jurong West Stadium)
His arrival has sparked a buzz in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, but Jermaine Pennant appears unlikely to start as Tampines Rovers kick off their league campaign against Geylang International tonight.
The former Liverpool and Arsenal winger believes he is as fit as he can be at this stage of the season, even if he has had to contend with a thigh problem.
But, even if the 33-year-old gets his first taste of competitive action in the S.League from the bench, he won't be overly disappointed.
"The coach has told me that he doesn't want to rush things, with it being a long season and all, and I'm sure they're going to wrap me in cotton wool," Pennant told The New Paper on the sidelines of the Stags' training session yesterday.
"I've definitely acclimatised now, to the conditions here, and I'm on par with the rest of my team.
"You get match fitness only by playing games and, in that sense, we're all on a level playing field - even players from other teams, but I'm in good shape, and the body's feeling good right now."
Whether or not he starts against Geylang at Jurong West Stadium tonight, Pennant is determined to make as big an impact on the field as he has already done off it.
"I've set myself some personal targets for the season - I'd like to get into double figures for both assists and goals," said the Englishman.
"And that starts (tonight), even if I've to come off the bench to do it."
Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy is aware of the ability Pennant brings to his team, but insists that his new acquisition still needs a bit of time.
"He has already shown in training exactly why he's played for clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal, he's definitely got quality," said the former Singapore international, himself a tricky winger in his heyday.
"But we need to understand that he needs time to settle, so we're going to take it a step at a time with him," added Sundram, declining to reveal his plans against Geylang.
The Eagles have assembled a squad that seem equipped to compete, with former LionsXII captain Isa Halim joined at the Bedok Stadium by the likes of veteran Daniel Bennett, as well as young guns Syazwan Buhari, Sahil Suhaimi and Safirul Sulaiman.
And Sundram is taking nothing for granted.
"Obviously, we're looking for three points and a good start to the competition but, with the players they've invested in, Geylang won't be a walkover," said the 50-year-old.
While winning trophies will always be expected of the star-studded Stags, their chairman Krishna Ramachandra has already asserted that he will not put additional pressure on his team.
And Sundram sang the same tune, calling for a good performance from his expensively assembled squad.
"We're playing at home, so we'll have to go out there and play some attacking football, that's really the only way to get three points," he said.
Pennant has shown in three friendlies - against Hougang United, Albirex Niigata and Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim II - that he can still deliver, with one goal and two assists from those games.
He is looking for more of the same as the league gets underway.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the start of the season, after the long build-up that we've had," said Pennant.
"The team look good and sharp, and I've had some part to play in each of the three (friendly) games I've played in, whether it's an assist or a goal, and I hope that continues."