Match Of The Week

Football: Youngest Lions improving

Garena Young Lions forward Fareez Farhan, foreground, who has scored all of his side's goals so far, is looking forward to the return of captain Khairul Amri to spearhead their attack in the rest of this S-League season.
Garena Young Lions forward Fareez Farhan, foreground, who has scored all of his side's goals so far, is looking forward to the return of captain Khairul Amri to spearhead their attack in the rest of this S-League season.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Coach Hesse focused on developing players as top scorer Fareez welcomes Amri's return

S-LEAGUE

Geylang Int'l v Garena Young Lions
Bedok Stadium, 7.30pm

The irony will not have escaped seasoned observers of the S-League: The top local-born scorer this season currently is Fareez Farhan, whose Garena Young Lions are rooted to the bottom of the standings.

In fact, his five strikes are the team's only goals this season, but the 21-year-old played down his achievements.

Said Fareez, who is two goals ahead of Home United's Khairul Nizam, the next highest-scoring local-born player: "I've been training very hard, and my team-mates have also been training hard.

"Some of them have got very close to scoring and (captain and main striker Khairul) Amri is also back from injury. He's going to add a lot more depth and effectiveness in our game because he's such a good player."

His performances have not gone unnoticed and coach Patrick Hesse said: "I must congratulate Fareez for his performance and his goals, because it's not easy to score when you're playing in such a young team against experienced opponents."

But besides scoring the least goals, the Young Lions also own the league's worst defensive record after shipping 27 goals.

They are ninth with just three points from 10 games. Their solitary win came on the opening weekend - a 1-0 victory over Balestier Khalsa.

The statistics - from a team expected to shoulder the nation's hopes at next year's SEA Games - hardly make for inspired reading.

But Hesse, whose team meet sixth-placed Geylang United tonight, said the situation is not as dire as it looks, insisting that the Young Lions are far from being just a one-man team.

He said: "Don't forget that our top striker, Amri, has not started any game. Day after day, he's better physically and soon I am sure he'll score for the Young Lions.

"Fareez must continue to score but we also have Amri, Muhelmy (Suhaimi), Hami (Syahin). We have players who can score."

At the back, he blamed injuries for the lack of stability but said he and the team are focused on plugging the gaps in defence.

He said: "We concede a lot of goals but since the beginning of the season, we've never played with the same defenders and we have a lot of injured players.

"Not playing the same defence two games in a row is difficult. To be better and concede less goals, we're working tactically on defensive organisation.

"We also work on the individual defensive techniques because in different situations, the players don't know what to do. We repeat and repeat what they have to do in training."

He pointed to the Young Lions as a developmental team and added: "Of course I must say that it's never easy to be last in the championship.

"But we must always remember the first objective of the Garena Young Lions is to develop and grow our young talents to have them maximise their potential.

"This is a very young team - the youngest-ever local side (average age 21.3 years) in the history of the S-League.

"I see in every training session and also during the games, this young team progress and improve."

Also tonight, seventh-placed Warriors take on Brunei DPMM (fifth) at Choa Chu Kang Stadium with both teams reeling from defeats last week by Tampines Rovers and Geylang International respectively.

Last night, hosts Hougang United held Tampines Rovers to a 1-1 draw. The result left Hougang still in third with 17 points and Tampines (21) just above them in second.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Youngest Lions improving'. Print Edition | Subscribe