Singapore Premier League • March 28, 2019
Derby rivalry still fires up Home and Warriors
SINGAPORE, 28 MARCH 2019 – They used to vie for domestic honours and currently share 11 Singapore Premier League (SPL) titles and 10 Singapore Cup trophies.
But that is hardly the case now for Warriors FC and Home United.
The last of Warriors’ record nine league crowns came in 2014 and they have not come anywhere near challenging for it since.
Meanwhile, Home are still waiting for their first league triumph since 2003, though they did win the 2013 RHB Singapore Cup.
If the drought is to end this year, they will have to bring their A-Game to the first Uniformed Derby of 2019 on Saturday evening.
Already, Home are third from bottom with just a single point after three matches, while Warriors prop up the table after a 5-1 opening defeat.
It is premature to suggest that victory for either side here will prove crucial, but both acknowledged that it could serve as a springboard for better results.
“We prepared well after a good pre-season, but we didn’t have a good game,” Warriors first-team coach Azlan Alipah told the official SPL website. “It’s a good wake-up call for us and every player now knows that they need to give their best in every game.”
His counterpart Saswadimata Dasuki echoed: “We have to move on from the bad results… The next game can be the turning point for us so we have to work towards getting the three points.”
NEW MEN AT THE WHEELS
It has been a baptism of fire for the duo, who are leading the traditional giants for the first time after previously serving as assistants.
Azlan, 41, took over the reins from Mirko Grabovac while Saswa, 49, succeeded Aidil Sharin. They acknowledge the pressure, but are determined to make their mark.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was chosen to take charge of our SPL team,” said Azlan, who also previously coached their Centre of Excellence teams. “It’s really a big honour to be given the opportunity to coach such a big and prestigious club.
“Pressure is always there and that only makes me stronger. I want to win something for the club and bring them back to their glory days. The main target now is to improve from last season’s (fifth) position and to be in the top three will be a good achievement for this team.”
Saswa, whose previous head coach stint came in 2008 with Sengkang Punggol (now Hougang), said: “From the moment I came in, I knew it’s a big responsibility. The expectation is to do better or at least achieve the same as last season (second in league, AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal champions), but I am keen to take this challenge.
“Right now we are having it tough with some injuries… but once they come back, it should be business as usual for our team.”
TIME TO STEP UP
Home’s injury woes have been well-documented. First-choice goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah, defender Taufiq Muqminin and South Korean talisman Song Uiyoung are still recovering while the versatile Fazli Ayob is already ruled out for the season.
Meanwhile, veteran attacker Shahril Ishak is still finding his groove and talented playmaker Hami Syahin is unlikely to start after his exertions in the recent AFC Under-23 qualifiers.
As such, the Protectors will turn to last season’s Young Player of the Year, Adam Swandi, to produce the goods.
Saswa said: “Adam is definitely one of the most important players in our team right now. He’s the player we look to in terms of the attacking department with his pace, creativity and ability to score goals.”
Warriors have a full-strength squad to call upon, with new captain Khairul Nizam and deputy Sahil Suhaimi expected to lead the charge.
“Nizam and Sahil are chosen as captains because they are experienced and role models to the young players,” Azlan explained. “They have to lead by example to help this team go forward.”
UNIFORMED DERBY STILL RELEVANT?
Some may argue that the Uniformed Derby has diminished in significance since the Warriors’ name-change from Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) FC in 2013.
That was to reflect a divorce from their military roots – Home remain associated with the Home Team – but the feistiness remains.
In their last encounter, Home trailed twice but scored two late goals to emerge 4-3 winners. Four months prior, Warriors came from behind thrice to hold Home to a 3-3 draw thanks to a 94th-minute equaliser.
In the 2017 League Cup, Warriors overcame a 3-1 half-time deficit to prevail 4-3 courtesy of three goals in 12 second-half minutes.
In fact, the last goal-less draw happened in November 2010 and there have only ever been five of those in 78 clashes – all of which points to another goal-laden thriller this weekend.
“One game that I remember is a televised game at Jalan Besar Stadium in July 2010,” recalled Home stalwart Juma’at Jantan, who is into his 12th year with Home across two spells.
“We held our defensive fort well and made our counter-attacks count. Eventually, Shahril scored a hat-trick for us and we won comfortably (5-2).”
“There will always be a healthy sense of rivalry between these two teams. Both teams will want to win and preserve our pride, so it adds to the excitement.”
Warriors midfielder Poh Yi Feng, who joined the club in 2016, has a slightly different take but did not downplay the game’s importance.
“Maybe it’s not exactly a uniformed derby because we are no longer SAF and the lead-up is not interesting as before,” he said. “But it’s still an important game. Warriors are the biggest club in Singapore but unfortunately, we have not been able to show that.
“This year, we must show everyone we are the best. To do that, we must do our utmost and fight for the badge that we are wearing and get the morale-boosting win on Saturday.
“Hopefully, Warriors will be back to where it belongs by the end of the season – the top.”
With both clubs seeking their first league win of the season, the stage is set for the 79th Uniformed Derby.