Football: 'Invincibles' season in Singapore Premier League unlikely, says Brunei DPMM coach

Brunei DPMM's Andrei Varankou celebrates scoring in his team's 7-1 win over Balestier Khalsa, in their Singapore Premier League match.
Brunei DPMM's Andrei Varankou celebrates scoring in his team's 7-1 win over Balestier Khalsa, in their Singapore Premier League match.PHOTO: FAS

SINGAPORE - Brunei DPMM are enjoying their lofty position at the summit of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with a third of the season gone, but coach Adrian Pennock does not believe his side will go through the entire campaign unbeaten.

With seven wins and two draws, DPMM are the only team yet to taste defeat this term. They lead second-placed Albirex Niigata, last year's champions, by six points.

The Bruneian side will look to extend their excellent run when they take on third-from-bottom Geylang International at the Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (May 11) night.

However, when asked if his side could emulate Albirex's feat in 2018 when they did not lose a league game, Pennock said: "It's not impossible, but we've played every team now, and it'll be very, very difficult to do.

"Every game we played, maybe except (a 7-1 win over) Balestier where they had injuries to key players, hasn't been a walkover, so it'll be a very tall order to go unbeaten all the way through.

"We're just enjoying the moment, but we know we've got to lose sometime, and maybe soon."

The Englishman, who was formerly assistant to Tony Pulis at Premier League side Stoke City, added: "Obviously it's great to be sitting nicely at the top of the tree, but we're there to be shot at."

Pennock, 48, pointed to the fitness work done in pre-season last December - he took his players on daily runs on the hills and in the jungles of Bandar Seri Begawan - as being key to the team's current success.

His foreign imports have also shone. Former Belarus international striker Andrei Varankou is the SPL's leading scorer with 12 goals, while Australian midfielder Blake Ricciuto has also shone, scoring four goals in the last five games.

"The important thing for us has been hard work," said Pennock.

"We have got players who can score goals and win games on their own, but everybody works hard for each other.

"And I think we can still improve. We're not the finished article right now, for sure."

The odds are stacked against Geylang, whose coach Noor Ali faces a major selection headache.

Four players Barry Maguire, Syahiran Miswan, Noor Ariff and Darren Teh are suspended while former Singapore internationals Firdaus Kasman (calf) and Christopher van Huizen (back) are struggling with injuries. Key attacker Shawal Anuar is not match fit after recovering from a serious knee injury.

Noor Ali named six Under-23 players in his starting 11 in last Saturday's 2-0 defeat by Albirex, and said he might have to field even more youngsters against DPMM.

"With our injuries and suspensions this is not the best time to face DPMM, who are one of the most consistent teams in the league," he said.

"But this is an opportunity for my young boys to show if they are able to put in consistent performances. And they are willing to play hard and compete."

Referring to the recent Champions League comebacks by Liverpool and Tottenham Hostpur, Noor Ali quipped: "There have been two big upsets in football already this week. Maybe our game could be the third?"