League Cup: Working together key for Protectors
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng has called upon his players to keep up the team-based work ethic they have shown in recent weeks as they prepare to face Bruneian side DPMM FC in the StarHub League Cup quarterfinals on Saturday evening.
The Protectors ground out a spot in the quarterfinals after beating the Courts Young Lions and Hougang United in the group stage, with both games marked primarily by displays of collective defensive graft rather than individual attacking flair.
While taking such an approach may seem odd for a Home squad laden with attackers like Qiu Li, Frederic Mendy and Indra Sahdan Daud, Lee was quite happy to place more emphasis on teamwork.
Speaking to sleague.com on the eve of the match at Bishan Stadium, the Korean stressed this point once more as he gave his take on the challenge ahead.
“When we play separately as individuals, we cannot beat any team,” he declared.
“But when we work together, when each of us shows that he can keep his position, we can show our strengths. When the players work hard to fulfill their positions, their individual qualities will get the chance to stand out.
“People say we have lots of good players, quality players. I respect these players, but I have already told them I want them to work together.
“So far, in the League Cup, the players have followed that thinking. If we show the same kind of play again, I’m confident we can do well in tomorrow’s match.”
Home have endured a spell of difficulty in recent weeks, dropping points in the S.League and bowing out of the RHB Singapore Cup at the hands of archrivals SAFFC.
Many players have struggled to hit form in that spell, apart from a one-off demolition of Geylang United, and are only beginning to show signs of recovery in this League Cup run.
When it was suggested that the players could be showing signs of stress as a consequence of this blip, Lee acknowledged it was possible, but added it was important they face this stress head-on.
“As a player, I used to feel a lot of stress until the day I retired, even though I was already playing at a high level,” said the former Bucheon SK stalwart.
“I rested well, I ate well, I trained hard to fix my weaknesses. All these brought me stress, because I wanted to keep up a good level of performance.
“The same thing is true for today’s players. If they cannot overcome that stress, if they cannot bring themselves to work hard and improve themselves, maybe they should retire like me!
“But I see the players are excited, and they want to do well in games like tomorrow. If this excitement makes them do well, then it is a good thing for them and for the club.”
Interestingly, Home are facing a DPMM side not exactly showing top form in recent weeks either, as the Bruneians come into this game on the back of a 0-2 defeat at the hands of SAFFC.
The Wasps had earlier narrowly edged Tanjong Pagar United by a solitary goal, while defeats to SAFFC, Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (Singapore) have seen them slide down to third spot in the S.League table.
More than these sides, though, Vjeran Simunic will be especially keen to beat the Protectors, who are proving to be his bogey side.
They had beaten DPMM home and away in 2009, the only other season when the Bruneians featured in the S.League, while this year, they have twice recorded 1-0 victories as well, once in the league and once in the first round of the RHB Singapore Cup.
But while Simunic and his charges may have revenge on their minds ahead of their first trip to Bishan – Home were based in Clementi Stadium in 2009 – Lee indicated he did not want to read too much into past results.
“I don’t think beating them twice does anything for us,” remarked the 40-year-old.
“Weaker teams have beaten stronger teams; how do you explain Albirex losing to Geylang on Thursday? And the Bruneians are a good side, so losing twice to us may give them motivation for this game.
“It’s very difficult to tell what the Bruneians are like right now; it all depends on how they have been behaving in their preparations. Maybe they have their own problems, because their results recently are not so good, but they could be coming into this game feeling very hungry.
“We cannot be overconfident. We just have to stay together, concentrate and work at getting a good result.”
One player who is not expected to play a big part in this game is Japanese forward Shotaro Ihata, who was spotted jogging along the perimeter of the field throughout the 50-minute training session while everyone else was engaged in fun activities.
Ihata had managed only 45 minutes in Home’s 2-0 victory over Hougang, before he was replaced by Indra, who went on to score both goals in that game.
“Ihata had a problem with his knee in the last game, and that’s why I took him out at half-time,” confirmed Lee.
“When he saw the doctor today, he was told it’s not serious. But he will probably not play for the full 90 minutes.
“But I’m very happy to see that Indra is doing well; he scored in the last game. He’s a quality player, even though he hasn’t scored a lot this year.
“He is a positive player, he helps the younger players a lot, and I respect him for his attitude to his teammates. So even though Ihata cannot play a big role, I’m happy I have Indra, and I hope he will score again tomorrow.”