SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Tampines Rovers v Hougang United Our Tampines Hub, tomorrow, 5.30pm
What a difference two months can make. On March 3, Tampines Rovers and Hougang United lined up in a lip-smacking opener to the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, touted as a clash between potential title rivals.
But Tampines put paid to notions of an even contest, trotting off the Jalan Besar Stadium pitch with a handsome 5-1 win, aided by a red card to Hougang's Justin Hui that preceded the Stags' four second-half goals.
Since then, however, the two teams have had contrasting fortunes in the league.
Hougang have won five of their seven games and currently sit in second. Tampines, meanwhile, have not won any of their last four and are fourth in the nine-team SPL.
As the teams prepare to meet again tomorrow at Our Tampines Hub, Hougang are eager to prove that the first result between the two sides this season was a one-off.
"We all know Tampines are a good team, there's no denying that," said star attacker Faris Ramli, who has scored six SPL goals this season.
"But we all know the 5-1 scoreline did not reflect the game. We suffered a red card at 1-0 down and they made use of the extra player to score more.
"The fact we managed to equalise (to 1-1) with 10 men shows we have the quality to match them."
Tampines coach Gavin Lee was also keen to downplay the thrashing his side handed out.
"In terms of whether the scoreline reflected the quality of both teams, I think it didn't," said Lee.
"Both sides have good sets of players but, on that day and in that game, we were the better team and they didn't perform. When those two factors come together, that (big win) can happen.
"Are we expecting a similar scoreline on Sunday? No. They'll definitely be fired up to prove the previous result was a fluke."
S'PORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Balestier Khalsa 0 Young Lions 1
Brunei DPMM v Home United
(Bandar Seri Begawan, 8.15pm)
Albirex Niigata v Geylang International
(Jurong East Stadium, 5.30pm)
On Tampines' recent struggles in the league, Lee said the team's exertions in the AFC Cup - games usually take place in midweek - have affected their consistency. Most recently, the Stags needed a last-minute goal to beat Myanmar champions Yangon United at Jalan Besar on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old acknowledged that the continental competition is "not easy physically" on his players as the matches are played at "an international tempo".
Lee added: "We've spoken about it as a team and we know it's part of the privilege of playing in a continental tournament... Whether (fatigue) will play a big part tomorrow, I don't know.
"But we've done our usual recovery protocols and hope the players are fresh, and physically and tactically ready."
Despite their good run of form, Hougang are looking to avoid a second loss on the trot, following their gutwrenching 3-2 defeat in injury time by league leaders Brunei DPMM last Sunday. The Cheetahs had led 2-1, and a win would have taken them top of the SPL.
"The loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but we've addressed it as a team and we are in better spirits now," said Faris. "This season, we have shown we have the mental strength to bounce back from our two (previous) losses by winning the next game both times, and we will have to do it again.
We have shown we are capable of competing at the top of the SPL, so this is a game we definitely want to take three points from.
FARIS RAMLI, Hougang winger, believes beating Tampines can underline his side's championship credentials.
"We have shown we are capable of competing at the top of the SPL, so this is a game we definitely want to take three points from."