Asian Football

The SPL Round 1 Round-Up Part 2: The Bottom Half

In Part 1 we discussed the top half of the league

The first round of the Singapore Premier League has concluded, and as teams prepare for the second round of fixtures, let’s take a look at how each team has fared. Despite the varying level of success of each club, one thing is for certain – it has been goals galore in the first 7 match days. Over 110 goals have been collectively scored by the 8 SPL clubs, and fans have been treated to some delightful goals and sensational attacking displays. While the defensive departments of most clubs certainly need refinements, it has nonetheless been a thrilling first-round thus far.

5th – Balestier Khalsa 

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League

Balestier came into this season as the only SPL side to have retained their four foreign import players from the previous campaign. It gave the Tigers an advantage: they kept a core group of players, which meant stability (or so people reckoned). Bringing in talented, young, but experienced players like Gareth Low and Amer Hakeem also added some much-needed muscle for the team. 

Under head coach Marko Kraljević, Balestier have always been a difficult side to play against. While shades of that were seen against Albirex (0-0 draw) and Hougang (1-0 loss after going down to ten men), they have been largely mediocre. 2 Wins, 2 Draws, and 3 Losses isn’t abysmal, but is it great either.

A key problem lies in the Tigers’ ability to score goals. While their forward line of Šime Žužul and Shuhei Hoshino started the season strongly against Young Lions, Marko has only started the pair twice since. Instead, Žužul is brought into the fray during the second half, but even then, the Žužul-Hoshino partnership has not taken off.

Nonetheless, there are positives. Faizal Raffi and Aarish Kumar have been decent for the Tigers. On a side note, Martyn Mun, Gautam Selvamany, and Hariysh Krishnakumar may still be raw talents but look promising. 

One player that has remained dependable for the Tigers is none other than Kristijan Krajček. The Croat is the key orchestrator of Balestier’s attacking moves, and while he can be deployed up front as a striker or as a central midfielder, I believe he works best if he’s in between those positions as an attacking midfielder. 

However, Krajček is bearing the most responsibility in creating and converting chances. The Tigers need to sort their attack out, because a string of good results is all they need to be in the running for the league title.

6th – Geylang International

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League

Something is amiss in the Geylang International camp. After the sensational acquisitions of Sylvano Comvalius and Matheus Moresche, the Eagles appeared to be a real contender for the title, or at the very least an AFC Spot. Still, the Eagles have not produced when it matters. Barring a single win against Tanjong Pagar and one draw against Young Lions, the Eagles have lost five times. This includes the 8-0 thumping by Lion City Sailors two weeks ago.

How have the Eagles found themselves in this position? Well, the absence of Barry Maguire has been a crucial factor in their poor showings. The Geylang team that faced Tampines on the last matchday of round 1 looked a team reinvigorated. While the Eastern derby is always a fiery affair, one cannot underestimate Maguire’s influence on the team.

Yet, therein lies Geylang’s biggest problem – the overreliance on Barry Maguire. In some sense, this situation reminds me of Bruno Fernandes’s first season at Manchester United, where he bore most of the attacking responsibility. 

One of their few silver linings this season has been the amazing performances by Zainol Gulam. The custodian has pulled off some incredible saves to either keep Geylang in the running or prevented further embarrassment. Had it not been for Zainol, Geylang could have easily lost by a more significant margin than 8-0 against the Sailors.

Here’s the thing. The SPL especially needs a solid and dangerous Geylang side now more than ever because they will be representing Singapore in the upcoming AFC Cup. The fact that both Lion City Sailors’ and Geylang’s group fixtures are held in Singapore means that the team needs to bounce back. Many eyes will be on both teams come June, and we need to be ready to show what Singaporean football can offer. 

As I mentioned, there were many positives to be taken away from their last fixture. Hopefully, they do much better in the second round.

7th – Tanjong Pagar United

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League

The Jaguars have finally got their first win since returning to the league last season. The Jaguars pulled out of the league in 2014, and technically, this was their first win in 2,361 days. Tanjong Pagar badly needed a win this campaign, and it has finally arrived, but it could have come earlier. The Jaguars underwent a massive overhaul during the pre-season transfer window, bringing in the likes of Khairul Amri, Ridhuan Muhammad, Blake Ricciuto, Rusyaidi Salime, and Reo Nishiguchi.

Yet despite the sweeping changes to the team, it first appeared that past season woes remained unresolved. Narrowly defeated by Geylang International in their first game of the season (2-1), they went on to successively lose to Lion City Sailors (5-0), Tampines Rovers (3-1), and Balestier Khalsa (4-0). All hope seemed lost against a Hougang United side in red hot form when the Jaguars shocked everyone by putting an excellent display upfront and drew the Cheetahs 3-3 to win their first point of the campaign. 

It was against the Cheetahs where the foreign players really clicked, and against Young Lions, they went out in full force. What a way to end their 2,361-day winless run, with an emphatic 4-0 win.

It seemed like Tanjong Pagar were finally back, and then reality hit them hard in the face. In the last match day of round 1, Albirex Niigata rained in the goals, scoring six past them. The Jaguars failed to respond with any serious threat. While they had more than 10 shots, they only mustered three shots on target. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is only a matter of time before Tanjong Pagar finds a system that works for them and will definitely be back to winning ways. Their performances against Young Lions and Hougang United have shown they can perform. Thus, fine-tuning a system that allows them to maximise their ability is the management’s next job.

8th – Young Lions

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League

Under Philippe Aw, the Young Lions have looked promising at times and look more refined as a unit than they did last season. Yes, they have been whipping boys for most of the league, but bear with me for a bit. 

Their season opener against Balestier demonstrated how they possessed the resolve to claw back and earn a point, while their fixture against Hougang showed how they could indeed tactically outplay significantly stronger opponents. What they need right now is consistency—consistently putting in good performances. 

To do that, the Cubs need to ensure their midfield doesn’t get overrun by their opponents. 

Harhys Stewart’s position right in front of the backline helps stabilise the midfield and crucially unlocks Joel Chew and Hami Syahin, who can support the attack.

Defensively, the Young Lions need a bit of polishing up, but Dylan Pereira has emerged as a fantastic prospect in goal. Except for the howler at the end of the match, the goalkeeper should start more games. Only 18 years old, big things await Dylan and hopefully, this is the season where he can make his mark in Singapore. 

Up front, the Young Lions need some tactical tweaking for sure. They have only scored six goals this season and fired blanks in 4 fixtures. 

The Young Lions have come under a lot of scrutiny of late, and I believe they have what it takes to silence their critics. Under Aw, they stand a real chance to demonstrate why the project should indeed resume. 

Featured Image Credits go to Singapore Premier League.

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