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Thursday, April 21, 2016

PUNDIT: The S-League – The THREE Things We Have Learned So Far This Season

By Staff Writer

S.League 2016 Progress Card: Three Things We Have Observed So Far

The 2016 S.League has reached a third of the season after all nine clubs have played each other once (including the abandoned Warriors FC v Tampines Rovers match in February due to heavy downpour), so it’s due time to have a look back at how things have gone so far.

Red Card has been to several matches on the ground and kept tabs on how the season has unfolded on and off the pitch. Here are three notable observations we have made in the first three months of the campaign so far.

  1. Heng ah, no LWS!

A major headache for the S.League since its introduction in 2013, the infamous Lightning Warning System (LWS) had regularly given grief to players, officials and spectators as matches were regularly disrupted by the pressing of the button.

What frustrated even more at times was the lack of an apparent storm/lightning threat coming towards the stadium. This was despite a thunderstorm lashing at some part of Johor kilometres away according to the National Environmental Agency weather advisory.

The usual end result would be disjointed play from both teams upon resumption, leading to a poor match experience for those present at the stadiums.

2016 though has remarkably seen ZERO disruptions due to the infamous LWS. Only one match – Warriors v Tampines – was abandoned due to the incessant torrential downpour that flooded the Jalan Besar artificial turf and rendered it unplayable in February.

The decision to halt and eventually abandon the game came from the match officials, not by the pressing of a button. This is the correct decision making procedure for the best interests of players, officials and spectators in view of what is in front of them.

And long may games be allowed to continue uninterrupted without some siren disgusting all present at the grounds in Singapore (Brunei has no such LWS at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium, home ground of defending champions DPMM FC.) for the remainder of the season.

  1. LionsXII alumni have not impressed 

The redistribution of former players of the now-defunct LionsXII was never going to create the same hype or impact as the predecessors of the 1994 Dream Team did at the launch of the S.League 20 years ago.

Perhaps shattered by the fact that they would not be playing regularly across the border for some time, the performances of the LionsXII alumni has generally been at best mediocre for their present local employers.

The better performing ones were those who rarely had a look-in in the 2015 Malaysia club football season. Hougang United goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid has been a colossus between the posts while Raihan Rahman is a combative anchor in midfield who has even managed to score a goal this season.

Often struggling for minutes at LionsXII due to persistent injuries, Khairul Nizam is given a new lease of life on the right wing at Home United. Licenced to destroy defences from the flank, he is the second leading Singaporean goalscorer with three goals, two behind Fareez Farhan of Garena Young Lions.

The established former LionsXII regulars have done decently so far, especially those at Tampines Rovers, but are clearly not playing at the levels they are capable of. Has perhaps failure to join Safuwan Baharudin in joining a Malaysian club this year led to mediocre showings?

Only time will tell whether the abrupt change in club football environment has invigorated or dulled them for the remainder of the season.

  1. From five to three: clubs affected by foreigner reduction.

The sudden decision from the S.League to cut the number of foreigners per club (with the exception of Japanese side Albirex Niigata (Singapore) in late 2015 has impacted the league this season.

Over the off-season, officials and coaches agonised on who among the five imports in their respective rosters had to be told to go, especially clubs where they were keen to retain the core of the squad following recent successes.

Defending league champions Brunei DPMM had to let go of two stalwarts – Bosnian defender Boris Raspudic and now-retired Irish midfielder Joe Gamble. Steve Kean has had to alter his tactical strategy this season as an all-local midfield now provides the link between defence and attack.

At least the Bruneian club have managed to adjust and cope after an initial rough start to their title defence. The same could not be said for Balestier Khalsa, who are once again struggling at the wrong end of the table after recent years of top-half finishes and cup successes.

The enforced departures of Croatian defender Igor Cerina and particularly Serbian centre midfielder Tarik Cmajcanin have left notable voids at the heart of defence and midfield. While Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Fadli Kamis have ably filled in Cerina’s boots this year, no one has been able to adequately replace the latter.

Balestier’s ominous lack of a decent midfield creator to bridge the tactical gap has caused grief for Marko Kraljevic this season. With Robert Pericic sidelined with a long-term injury sustained in pre-season, 2015 club top scorer Miroslav Kristic has looked out-of-sorts in attack this year without a decent provider to supply the forwards ammunition up front.

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Staff Writer

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