Football: Unbeaten Brunei DPMM aim to continue momentum against Balestier Khalsa in Singapore Premier League

Brunei DPMM's Charlie Clough (right) in action against Albirex Niigata's Daizo Horikoshi at the Jurong East Stadium, on March 15, 2019.
Brunei DPMM's Charlie Clough (right) in action against Albirex Niigata's Daizo Horikoshi at the Jurong East Stadium, on March 15, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The early Singapore Premier League title talk had revolved around the usual suspects; defending champions Albirex Niigata, local powerhouses Home United and Tampines Rovers, as well as big spenders Hougang United.

But midway through the first round of fixtures, only overlooked Brunei DPMM remain unbeaten - even after tough games against Home (1-0), Albirex (0-0) and Tampines (2-1).

DPMM coach Adrian Pennock told The Straits Times: "Nobody were talking us pre-season but there can always be surprises in the league and Balestier (Khalsa, their opponents on Saturday, April 13, at the Bishan Stadium) are also third now on merit.

"They are good going forward and we need to show up if we are to get a positive result and keep this run going.

"Momentum is so important in a league season. Albirex had a fantastic unbeaten run throughout 2018 to win the league and hopefully ours will continue on Saturday."

Former Belarus international Andrei Varankou has started well with three goals as Pennock has successfully integrated him and the other two new imports - Australian midfielder Blake Ricciuto and English centre-back Charlie Clough - alongside DPMM's long-serving locals.

Pennock, 48, took over on Dec 1. The Englishman said: "It is important we got the right people and characters in the team. The imports we got from 30 trialists from all over the world are excellent, and the locals have just been these honest players who want to learn.

"My job was first to get them fit, strong and organised and work on team spirit and bonding."

His side are tactically flexible (able to switch between three or four at the back) and also mentally resilient (DPMM played with 10 men for 40 minutes against Albirex after Najib Tarif was sent off).

Balestier will be no pushovers despite having lost their captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam. He ruptured his Achilles' tendon and will be out for about four months.

Tigers coach Khidhir Khamis will have to rely on the untested duo of Zacharial Leong and Faris Danial during the Singapore international's absence.

Khidhir said: "Zaiful is an integral part of how we play and his absence is a big blow on and off the pitch, but we have a squad ready to take up the responsibility of leading and rallying each other until he returns."

Balestier have scored eight goals after five league games - behind only Tampines who have managed 12 - with forwards Sime Zuzul and Kristijan Krajcek a threat and 19-year-old Daniel Goh impressing on the right wing.

Khidhir said:"We had a short pre-season, so we are still a work in progress. But I have been pleased with the players' willingness to accept change from a soak and strike strategy to more expansive football.

"We still need to improve in terms of intensity and how we attack and defend. The players are responding in training and we will be a much better side as the season goes along."