Tanjong Pagar United get some respite, after being hit by injury woes
Tanjong Pagar hit by injury woes, but the SPL suspension has given them more time to recover
A spate of injuries had threatened to hurt Tanjong Pagar United's creditable start to their Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign, but the suspension of the football season has given them some unexpected respite.
Their casualty list includes star striker Luiz Junior, who is the worst hit after fracturing a shin bone in his left leg during last Friday's 2-2 draw with Albirex Niigata.
The 29-year-old Brazilian has been ruled out for at least 1½ months. He could be out for longer, should he need an operation on his cracked fibula, a decision that is expected today.
Also out of action is forward Nashrul Amin, who suffered a medial collateral ligament strain in the right knee, in the same game. The 22-year-old is expected to be out for about six weeks.
Defender Takahiro Tanaka had an ankle injury in their opening match - a 1-1 draw with the Lion City Sailors - but is not far from a return.
The Jaguars have also been missing experienced midfielder Raihan Rahman even before the season commenced, after the 29-year-old broke his jaw in a 4-0 friendly loss to Johor Darul Ta'zim last month.
They were scheduled to resume their season against the Young Lions on April 5. But, the SPL suspension - enforced following the multi-ministry taskforce's measures against the coronavirus pandemic - has given coach Hairi Su'ap more time to let his players regroup.
"Given the outbreak, I think it's only sensible to suspend the league," the 46-year-old told The New Paper.
"It's also a good thing for us, as it gives the injured players more time to recover and be ready to compete for the rest of the season. It gives us more time to regroup and plan."
Added Junior: "I'm disappointed (with my injury), obviously, but I'm relaxed about the situation as the break gives me more time for recovery."
The unfancied Jaguars, making a return to the league after a five-year absence, had targeted a mid-table finish. Despite facing three strong teams in their opening games, they had managed to garner two points.
Following their 1-1 draw with favourites Lion City Sailors - Singapore's first privatised football club, bankrolled by billionaire Forrest Li - the Jaguars lost 2-0 to another title-contenders, Tampines Rovers.
However, they bounced back with the 2-2 draw with Albirex , despite being a man down after defender Delwinder Singh was sent off in the 44th minute.
While the extended break could see more of his regulars returning to fitness, Hairi is also hoping to see his non-starters step up.
Among them are midfielders Farihin Farkhan and S. Suria Prakash, and brothers Hadiputradila and Ribiyanda Saswadimata, the sons of former Singapore international Saswadimata Dasuki.
"Firstly, it will depend on when the season resumes and, as such, when we resume training," Hairi said.
"Should I be missing players still, especially Junior, then I'm expecting three or four players to step up and fight for their chance.
"Hadi, Ribi, Farihin and Suria should take this opportunity to showcase their abilities... It's not just for Tanjong Pagar, it is also for other clubs to see, looking forward."
Added Junior: "The team we have are very good, a lot of young players, but we are just very unlucky with injuries."
With the Saswadimata siblings and Farihin managing 108 minutes among them in three games, the burden to step in for Junior could fall on the 26-year-old Suria, who has had 96 minutes of game time.
"Suria should start, he has very good fitness, good understanding with the team and has played most of the games," Hairi said.
"We could start him either on the left or maybe as a striker, depending on how we are approaching the game."