Tampines Rovers coach Gavin Lee shrugs off favourites’ tag
Tampines emerging as early pace-setters, but coach dismisses title talk
With a four-point cushion at the top of the Singapore Premier League table, Tampines Rovers have set the pace and emerged as early title favourites.
But their coach Gavin Lee is only too keen to squash such a notion.
Save for a 2-1 defeat by Hougang United last month, Lee's Stags have won five games, including a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing of title rivals Lion City Sailors before the coronavirus-enforced break.
With quality oozing throughout the squad - Lee added veteran defender Baihakki Khaizan to his side during the hiatus - the five-time champions are looking good to regain the crown they last won in 2013.
But when told about it, Lee responded: "We are not buying into any of that (on being title favourites).
"And we do not feel the pressure as we are aware of our potential and ability, and we are just going to take it one game at a time. Everyone's just excited for each game.
"Also with eight games left, many things can happen, many things can change, so it doesn't affect our thinking."
Occupying their minds for now is the Eastern Derby with Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub tomorrow.
Lee expects a stern challenge from the Eagles, based on their three league meetings (one win, one draw and one loss) in his first season at the helm last year.
"Every game against Geylang has been tough," he said. "They are a very good side and we expect a close game."
Eagles coach Noor Ali agreed that it will be a tight affair, adding that Tampines are "the team to beat".
Geylang, who are sixth in the eight-team table and six points adrift of the Stags, are vying for an AFC Cup spot. They are boosted by Wednesday's 1-0 win over Tanjong Pagar United, following two straight losses.
On whether the Eagles can exploit the pressure on Tampines in their chase for the title, Noor Ali said: "They have many experienced players who can handle big-game situations... for them the pressure is normal."
While both coaches have no injury concerns ahead of their clash, defender Daniel Bennett and winger Jordan Webb are expected to be restored to the Stags' starting XI.
The experienced duo were rested in Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Young Lions.
"Recovery and keeping freshness are key, given that we played last Saturday, then on Wednesday and then we play again on Saturday," said Lee.
- Balestier Khalsa v Lion City Sailors
- Geylang Int'l v Tampines Rovers
- Albirex Niigata v Hougang United
* All games at 5.30pm. Live on Singtel TV Ch 111/112/113 , StarHub TV Ch201/202/204 & 1 Play Sports Facebook