MatchOfTheWeek

Rested but rusty title contenders play catch-up

Tampines Rovers' (from left) Irwan Shah celebrates with Khairul Amri and Zehrudin Mehmedovic after scoring against Cambodian club Nagaworld during their AFC Cup Group F match at Jalan Besar Stadium on April 17, 2019.
Tampines Rovers' (from left) Irwan Shah celebrates with Khairul Amri and Zehrudin Mehmedovic after scoring against Cambodian club Nagaworld during their AFC Cup Group F match at Jalan Besar Stadium on April 17, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

It has been 17 days since their last Singapore Premier League game, yet Tampines Rovers have had only two days as a full team to prepare for their crunch tie at champions Albirex Niigata today.

But Stags coach Gavin Lee says his rested squad are ready.

Tampines are targeting their first league title since 2013 but, with over a third of the season gone, the Stags, fourth on 17 points, trail league leaders Brunei DPMM by 10 points.

Third-placed Albirex, champions for the past three seasons, have not fared too much better in their title defence and trail DPMM by nine points, although both teams have played one game fewer than the Bruneians' 11.

Lee said he has not had to spell out to his players how important today's game at Jurong East Stadium is to Tampines' title hopes.

"I honestly don't think our boys need any further reminders, they are sensible and know the situation," said the 28-year-old.

"I don't need to hype up the game for them any bigger than it already is."

Tampines last played on May 29, beating the Young Lions 4-0, before four players - defenders Irwan Shah and Amirul Adli, and midfielders Shahdan Sulaiman and Yasir Hanapi - linked up with the Singapore national team during the two-week international window.

Albirex have had an even longer break - 22 days - since their goalless draw with DPMM, and had their squad intact for the period.

Lee has also had to figure out how to replace Canadian star Jordan Webb.

The 31-year-old winger, who has scored four SPL goals this term, is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card against the Young Lions.

"We've worked on finding out a solution but, whether we have found one, we'll find out after the game," said Lee.

"It's like preparing for an exam. You can do everything, but you never know how well you have prepared until you receive the results later on."

Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi would only say that the break was "a good preparation period for the next game", although the White Swans still have "many injured players", without elaborating.

On the importance of the match in catching up with DPMM, he added: "I think every match is important, (so) of course tomorrow's game is also important." Sazali Abdul Aziz

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2019, with the headline 'Rested but rusty title contenders play catch-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe