League Cup: Bid for redemption at Queenstown
Photography by Lee Jian Wei
Monday evening’s first ever StarHub League Plate semifinals are staged for clubs who finished third in each of their four groups of the StarHub League Cup series held a week earlier.
The two teams who finished third in Group A and Group C respectively, Tanjong Pagar United and the Courts Young Lions, end up where they are after playing both of their two group games against two of the best teams in the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League.
For their efforts they get the chance to earn a little financial reward, with a place in the S$5,000 Plate Final on Friday at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Joining them there are one of Woodlands Wellington and Balestier Khalsa, who will do battle at Toa Payoh on Monday as well to see which of those two earn the honour.
Despite being unable to win either of their group matches – Woodlands came closest with one draw, unlike the straight losses suffered by the other three teams – the Monday games offer the chance to taste victory at last.
For the combatants at Queenstown Stadium an outcome like that would represent a reward for some very hard work that, for some time, has not yielded too many dividends – at least in the case of Tanjong Pagar, whose impressive performances have not been amply matched by results.
That is not so much the case, however, with the Young Lions who, before they began their League Cup venture, had enjoyed three good wins in succession in the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League.
Robin Chitrakar’s boys, before falling in the League Cup at the hands of Hougang United and Home United, had beaten Malaysia’s Harimau Muda 1-0 and SAFFC 2-1, having already posted a win at Woodlands in June before several of them headed to Indonesia on national duty.
So the setbacks in the group stage of this competition would not have dented their reputations too severely, and they should be ready to fire again at Queenstown and get the chance to cross swords with the other Plate finalists on Friday.
Tanjong Pagar, by contrast, have not tasted victory as frequently, but they have come out looking none too shabby wherever they have played recently, even when the team had games while Terry Pathmanathan was in Japan on a coaching course and D. Tokijan took the team in his stead.
After beating Balestier and Woodlands back in May, both by 1-0 margins, the team lost to Hougang 0-1 and to Albirex Niigata (Singapore) 0-2 at Jalan Besar, before securing a point from a hard-fought 0-0 draw away to Gombak United.
They then went down fighting to the Harimau Muda and were narrowly edged by reigning S.League champions Tampines Rovers.
When these teams met in the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League back in April, the Young Lions prevailed 5-0, but in the match right after that the Jaguars beat Home on the same Queenstown ground to mount a form revival that has seen spirits soar ever since.
The mid-season arrival of midfielder Carlos Delgado, striker Gilbert Bayonne and defender Anthony Aymard has also breathed new life into the side.
“We will continue to try and find our best form,” said Pathmanathan on Sunday, having been generally pleased with the players in recent games.
“The team’s improving, and we are working on keeping that going. We are not thinking directly about winning a trophy, but if that happens it will be good for the players and their supporters, and a good reward for the hard work put in.”
Chitrakar had his final training session before the game on Sunday morning, explaining that as it was a weekend he thought the players would be able to have a solid one-hour session and then spend the rest of the weekend with their families.
The thought that the Muslim players can thus enjoy the Sunday evening during Ramadan better that way certainly featured for Chitrakar, who hopes that translates to them being in a positive mood come the day of the match.
“Naturally we want to win on Monday,” he said.
“We cut the early morning session short, to spare the players during this fasting month, but I can tell you we all know there is something worth playing for. My boys are always ready to compete at any time, and Monday will be no exception.”
Only two of the players were not fully fit, but both, creative midfielders Benjamin Lee and Faris Ramli, are back in full training again and will be considered for selection in this semifinals game at Queenstown.
“I won’t decide on whom to start until the day of the game, but all of our foreign players like Jonathan Toto, Sherif El-Masri and Sirina Camara are fit and keen to play,” noted Chitrakar.
“There’s the usual issues with National Service with some of my players, and I’m not sure what their status is for the day of the game, so some like Shahfiq Ghani may or may not start.
“We’re all looking forward to the match and hope to give our supporters some good entertainment.
“If we can reach the Final of the StarHub Plate then we will be able to perform on Friday in front of our own fans too, which should be to our advantage,” he observed.