Match Of The Week

Football: Depleted Tampines Rovers eye an upset win over leaders Albirex Niigata

Tampines Rovers coach Jurgen Raab (in blue) giving instructions to his players during training. He knows the Stags must be at the top of their game to beat Albirex Niigata tomorrow.
Tampines Rovers coach Jurgen Raab (in blue) giving instructions to his players during training. He knows the Stags must be at the top of their game to beat Albirex Niigata tomorrow.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Tampines missing key men but coach Raab believes Stags can inflict first loss on Albirex

SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE Tampines Rovers v Albirex Niigata Our Tampines Hub, tomorrow, 8.30pm

Injury-hit Tampines Rovers are struggling to put together a team for tomorrow's key clash with Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Albirex Niigata, but the Stags are determined to be the first club to take points off the defending champions this season.

With a perfect record of eight wins, Albirex lead the nine-team table on 24 points and a victory tomorrow will see the Japanese side go 17 points ahead of Tampines, who have three games in hand.

Balestier Khalsa (10 points) and Home United (eight points), who meet at the National Stadium today, can leapfrog Tampines into second place with a win.

Stags coach Jurgen Raab will have to conjure up something special, considering the club's long injury list which includes right-back Shannon Stephen (anterior cruciate ligament), left-back Irwan Shah (knee), centre-back Irfan Najeeb (ankle). Striker Khairul Amri is serving a two-match suspension.

"This is definitely not going to be an easy game as I have problems fielding a team," said their German coach Raab. "But I am always confident and I know the team will be going all out. We are able to create a result if we work hard."

The game will be played tomorrow at 8.30pm at Our Tampines Hub, instead of the usual 5.30pm start for weekend fixtures, during the Ramadan period.

And that could pose another problem for Raab as many of his players fast and might not have the same energy levels as the Japanese.

He said: "The Muslim players do not eat or drink during the day and they are asked to play against the top side at night."

Despite their huge lead at the top, Albirex, who won the last two championships, are not about to let their guard down.

The White Swans have the most prolific attack that has bagged 22 goals, but coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga believes his forwards' finishing could be sharper.

He cited the example of striker Taku Morinaga, who has scored three goals. Yoshinaga wants the 1.53m player to be more ruthless.

He said: "Taku Morinaga has got into good goalscoring positions but not been able to put them away; we'll give him advice and put it right in training."

Raab knows the Stags must be at the top of their game.

He said: "There are some games where Albirex could not score that many, like the 1-0 wins over Hougang (United) and Balestier (Khalsa).

"But they have proved that you need to give them only one chance and they will punish you."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'Depleted but not defeated'. Print Edition | Subscribe