Both clubs have started the season poorly, as Home United sit third from bottom, while Warriors FC sit dead last, albeit with two games in hand on The Protectors. Although it's still early days, both clubs have struggled heavily, with Warriors losing their opening fixture 5-1 to Hougang United, and Home having only picked up one point in three games this season, with their own 5-1 thrashing having occurred at the hands of Tampines Rovers.
Both sides have struggled for goals up front while appearing leaky at the back. This is unfamiliar territory for both teams, who are some of the most successful in Singapore football. The Uniformed Derby is normally a tightly contested match with both sides vying for success near the top of the table, but this time around they find themselves in a mad scramble to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. The fallen giants of local football will both be hoping to pick themselves up sooner rather than later, with plenty of time still left in the season for a revival of sorts.
Home’s goalkeeper crisis
Much has been made of Home’s lack of creativity and verve up front, with only one goal scored in three games this season. The lack of pace and a clinical finisher has been telling, but what has gone somewhat unnoticed is the crisis that Home are facing at the back. With regular first-choice goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah injured, Nazri Sabri was drafted in against Tampines.
Nazri appeared to have been overawed by the occasion of such a big match, flapping at the simplest of crosses, and failing to command his defence effectively. He struggled and conceded five against Tampines, and was promptly dropped for third-choice keeper Haikal Hasnol for the AFC Cup fixture against
Haikol responded to this rare opportunity by conceding five goals of his own against Kaya, and Nazri soon found himself back in the hot seat against Balestier Khalsa last week, where he kept a clean sheet. However, he was rarely tested against the Tigers, and that both of The Protector’s fit goalkeepers are yet to convince this season is surely a cause of concern for head coach Saswadimata Dasuki.
Coach Saswa has come under fire himself from both fans and media in recent weeks, following Home’s underwhelming start to the season, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to tweak the team and turn things around before he gets the sack. Defending AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Champions, expectations of Home have been set high this season, and they have struggled to even come close to these expectations so far.
If anything is to be done however, Saswa surely has to begin by building a strong foundation for the team, and that starts at the back from the goalkeeper. Home need to resolve their goalkeeper crisis quickly or their defence can expect to be torn apart again.
Gabriel can’t do it all on his own for Warriors
Returning from a stellar season in Thailand with Navy FC, all eyes were on Gabriel Quak as he enjoyed a stunning AFF Suzuki Cup campaign late last year. His signing for Warriors came as somewhat of a surprise, given that he received several offers from foreign teams, but he cited the need to be closer to his family as the driving factor in his decision.
Gabriel looks stronger, faster, and certainly plays with more intelligence following his spell in Thailand. However, against Hougang, it was clear that he was left to do too much on his own, and he often found himself surrounded by two or three orange shirts whenever he received the ball.
The supporting cast of players such as Khairul Nizam, Sahil Suhaimi and Jonathan Behe will need to do more to ease the attacking burden on Gabriel. Against Home’s defence, which has struggled all season long, the pace, power, and physicality of Warriors’ attacking lineup should be able to pose significant problems for their opposition.
If their attackers can click, and find ways to get Gabriel on the ball in positions where he can really hurt teams, Warriors should have no problems up front. The key will be to offer Gabriel options and to not expect him to do it all by himself. He may be the star of the team, but each player will have to pull their weight if Warriors are to find their feet up top.
Warriors have only played once this season, and although they were comprehensively beaten, the signs of promise are there, especially with their wide array of talents in attack. Against a struggling Home defence, Warriors should be able to seize the opportunity to go for their opponent's throats right from the get-go and snatch a result in the first Uniformed Derby of the campaign.