SPL's resumption gives teams an opportunity to start on a clean slate
SPL's resumption offers Sailors and Cheetahs the chance to start on a clean slate
A sluggish opening to the season may have pegged Hougang United and Lion City Sailors back in their chase for honours, but the Singapore Premier League's (SPL) restart tomorrow has provided them with an opportunity to start on a "clean slate".
The SPL's resumption, which comes nearly seven months after the last ball was kicked on March 20, even feels like a new campaign for Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar and his Hougang counterpart Clement Teo.
Hougang, who are targeting AFC Cup qualification, had only one win after three matches, but are raring to put things right as they meet leaders Tampines Rovers at Our Tampines Hub tomorrow.
"Hougang generally have never started (a season) well over the years, so we are glad to get that out of the way," Teo, 54, told The New Paper.
"The break has given us the opportunity to work and bond together as a unit, giving us a clean slate...
"The main objective has been to get the go-ahead for the restart and, now that we have been given the green light, this feels like a brand new season."
Also hoping to put their slow start firmly in the past is Vidmar.
The Sailors, who are gunning for the SPL crown, are still searching for their first win. They had played only two games - a 1-1 draw with Tanjong Pagar United and a 4-0 defeat by title rivals Tampines.
Vidmar wasn't able to put a finger on what went wrong, adding: "I don't think anyone knows what to expect (of the restart), but it feels like a new season.
"Following the break, everyone is a little bit more aware of each other and of the expectations we have."
The 53-year-old Australian has more reason to feel optimistic after the Sailors, Singapore's first privatised football club bankrolled by billionaire Forrest Li and his tech firm Sea, added Hougang striker Stipe Plazibat to the already star-studded squad.
For Teo, the loss of Plazibat, who bagged nine goals in six games for the Cheetahs, was a blow, but he has placed his faith in his "SSS" strike force to help his side reach their goal.
"We have our 'Triple S' attack in Shahfiq (Ghani), Sahil (Suhaimi) and Shawal (Anuar). They are all national or ex-national players and they have done well for us," he said.
"I don't deny Stipe is a loss, but not a big loss. We have able players to score goals for us...
"Seeing how they have performed day in and day out, they have shown great improvement. We are on track to achieve our objectives despite the slow start and the enforced break."
Over at Tanjong Pagar, it feels almost like a new start too, with assistant coach Hasrin Jailani taking over from head coach Hairi Su'ap, who has left to "pursue other interests".
The change came on Wednesday, just three days before tomorrow's match against Balestier Khalsa at Jurong East Stadium.
Tanjong Pagar had performed creditably before the SPL was suspended - with draws against the Sailors (1-1) and Albirex Niigata (2-2) sandwiching a 2-0 loss to Tampines.
Holding the key to their fate is Brazilian striker Luiz Junior, who is still regaining full fitness after fracturing his shin bone in March.
When asked if Junior's return date is known, Hasrin, who had an earlier stint as Geylang International coach, chose to keep his cards close to his chest.
Said the 44-year-old: "I want to say 'soon', because I want to play mind games with the other teams."
???Tampines Rovers v Hougang United (5.30pm, Our Tampines Hub)
???Tanjong Pagar United v Balestier Khalsa (5.30pm, Jurong East Stadium)
???Lion City Sailors v Geylang International (5.30pm, Bishan Stadium)
???Young Lions v Albirex Niigata (5.30pm, Jurong West Stadium)
SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
*All matches to be played behind closed doors. Watch live on 1 Play Sports or Singapore Premier League's Facebook pages