Football: Tampines Rovers bank on fortress that is the Jalan Besar Stadium in AFC Cup opener

Tampines Rovers players (from left) Shakir Hamzah, Shahdan Sulaiman, Kwon Jun and Sufian Anuar during a training session in preparation for the AFC Cup game against Bangladesh Premier League champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club. The match will be pl
Tampines Rovers players (from left) Shakir Hamzah, Shahdan Sulaiman, Kwon Jun and Sufian Anuar during a training session in preparation for the AFC Cup game against Bangladesh Premier League champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club. The match will be played at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Stags hope that Jalan Besar will be a good omen as they kick off in the AFC Cup today

The Jalan Besar Stadium was an impregnable stronghold last season for the now-defunct LionsXII side as they went through the entire season unbeaten in 18 matches in all competitions.

Key to that enviable record was Izwan Mahbud, one of eight ex-LionsXII players now with Tampines Rovers, and the goalkeeper is determined to maintain that run when the Stags kick off their AFC Cup campaign today.

The five-time S-League champions are based at the Jurong West stadium but will play their AFC Cup home ties at Jalan Besar.

  • 18 

  • Number of matches the LionsXII played in and remained unbeaten at the Jalan Besar Stadium in all competitions last season.

They face reigning Bangladesh Premier League champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club tonight at the 7,100-seater stadium.

Said Izwan, 25: "Hopefully, it can be a fortress and we can go unbeaten at home but the AFC Cup is a different ball game altogether and we cannot be complacent.

"A good defence gives stability at the back, allowing the attackers to express themselves, so it's important for the defenders to concentrate and try to keep a clean sheet."

Having failed to progress beyond the AFC Cup group stages in their last three attempts (2012-14), Tampines have a point to prove and will look to their new signings, Jermaine Pennant and Billy Mehmet, to provide additional fire-power.

Winger Christopher van Huizen, who netted two goals last season at Jalan Besar, is relishing the return to a familiar ground.

He said: "We must take our chances when we're at home. The support created by the home fans last season was very positive."

Besides an intimidating atmosphere, Jalan Besar's artificial turf can also be a tricky proposition for visiting teams not used to the slick plastic surface.

It will take some adjustment, admitted Sheikh Jamal's coach Shafiqul Islam Manik.

Nevertheless, the former Bangladesh national coach stressed that his team were prepared.

"We practised on Sunday and I think the players will be able to adjust to this pitch."

Meanwhile, Tampines head coach V. Sundramoorthy is demanding an improved performance after they conceded six goals in their last two competitive games.

The ex-LionsXII coach, who also masterminded an unbeaten home record when he guided them to the 2013 Malaysian Super League title, said: "When you go out to attack, there will be gaps for the opposition to capitalise.

"So it's important for us to stay focused. We need the three points for a chance to go to the next round."

Singapore's other representative in the AFC Cup, Balestier Khalsa, travel to the Maldives to play New Radiant SC tonight.

TAMPINES V SHEIKH JAMAL
Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 7.20pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline 'TAMPINES BANK ON FORTRESS'. Print Edition | Subscribe