Warriors vow to finish season on a high
After a 24-match struggle, Warriors FC officially lost their grip on the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League crown following last Friday's 2-1 loss to Albirex Niigata - their 10th defeat of the season.
With three league games left, the Warriors could still have a big say in whether the title stays in Singapore or ends up in Brunei as they have to play the main contenders Tampines tomorrow and DPMM FC on Friday.
Newly-appointed Warriors coach Karim Bencherifa insists his team will do no side any favours, vowing to go all out and end their season on a high.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 47-year-old said: "We are professionals so, beyond playing for results and titles, we also play for our own pride.
"It's important to compete to be fair to our fans, as many of them sacrifice a lot to be there to cheer for us.
"Of course, with both Tampines and DPMM competing for the title, beating them will send a strong signal that we can beat the best and that we are one of the best teams in the league.
"Since I joined Warriors FC, all my energy and focus are on restoring the confidence of the team and ending the season on a high.
"So I am thinking more of where we end up (in the standings) rather than who will win the league."
After losing national goalkeeper and reigning S.League Player of the Year Hassan Sunny to Thai side Army United, the Warriors were not considered favourites to retain their title, but got off to a flying start with six wins in their first seven games and briefly topped the table.
But they then hit a poor patch, winning just five of their next 17 matches.
It leaves them in fifth spot in the 10-team standings, 10 points behind leaders Brunei DPMM FC.
The Warriors have found the net 39 times, just one fewer than the league's topscorers DPMM, and also boast 18-goal striker Fazrul Nawaz, but their defence has been a letdown, conceding a league-high 42 goals.
A possible explanation could be that the record nine-time S.League champions have failed to find a suitable replacement for Hassan, having gone through four goalkeepers this season - Neezam Abdul Aziz, Daniel Ong, Shahul Rayyan and Nur Amin Malik.
But Bencherifa feels that the league table doesn't accurately reflect his team's quality.
He said: "Warriors FC don't deserve to be in this position in terms of our league standing and our defensive record.
"After I joined, it was important to start with a win and a clean sheet by beating Hougang United 2-0.
"Though we lost 2-1 to Albirex in our second game, we had a lot of positives.
"We were a very strong unit defensively - we defended well, didn't concede from open play and lost to two goals from set-pieces."
Bencherifa is also confident that with the pressure lifted off the team's shoulders, the Warriors can get back to winning ways to prepare for the next season.
"We are definitely looking forward to the game against Tampines and we believe we can bounce back with a positive result," he said.