S-League: Tanjong Pagar's Latiff gets a lift

JAGUARS' GEM: Ahmad Latiff is a vital cog in the Tanjong Pagar engine, says his coach Patrick Vallee and captain Walid Lounis.

SINGAPORE - Ahmad Latiff has scored for every club he's played for in his 16-year career, save for his month-long trial with Hong Kong side Happy Valley in 2001.

While the 34-year-old has racked up four assists as a fullback this season, he has yet to bulge the net for the Jaguars.

But, ask those around him about his contributions, and the words flow.

His coach Patrick Vallee and captain Walid Lounis see the 1.72m-tall player as a vital cog in the Tanjong Pagar engine.

Breaking the duck, they said, is just a matter of time for the S-League veteran who has played for Geylang United, SAFFC and Tampines Rovers.

Vallee said: "He does a lot of things and brings a lot of confidence to the team, especially the locals.

"You may not have noticed him while he was playing for Tampines, but he was important to them. When he plays for Tanjong Pagar, his presence is felt.

"I believe he will score one goal, an important goal this season. I don't know when, but I am hoping for it."

Important

Added Walid, 30, who is suspended for Tueday night's game against Albirex Niigata: "He usually scores in the second half of the season, just as he did with Tampines last year.

"He scores only the important goals."

Latiff, who declined to be interviewed, could play a key role as the third-placed Jaguars try to close the gap on their opponents on Tuesday night.

If Tanjong Pagar win, they will be just a point behind the second-placed White Swans.

Following this, they have just four matches left before the league splits into two halves for the new half-round format.

Try raising the possibility that the Queenstown-based club are capable of winning the league title this season, and both coach and skipper will direct you back to the club's pre-season objective - a mid-table finish after finishing second from bottom in the last two seasons.

It is in part modesty, but a closer look at the league table also explains the Jaguars' cautious optimism.

Tanjong Pagar and seventh-placed Harimau Muda B are separated by just five points.

Any slip-ups in the business end of the regular season could mean battling for places in the lower half of the league in the half-round, instead of challenging defending champions Tampines Rovers for the  title.

Walid said: "We always look to win games and it would be good to close the gap on Albirex.

"However, it's not just about closing gaps on Albirex or Tampines, but collecting maximum points to stay in the top six because the teams below us are very close.

"We cannot afford any mistakes."

Vallee added: "We must follow our first objective, which is to finish in a better position than last season after 22 games. We'll see what happens after that.

Improve

"I am very happy with my squad right now. I've seen a lot of players improve this season, but we can do better too, especially in terms of killing games off and our experienced players handling high-pressure situations."

The Jaguars will be at a disadvantage against arguably the league's fittest team on tuesday night, since many of their players are fasting in the Muslim month of Ramadan.

But the White Swans are hardly firing on all cylinders - they lost 1-0 to Woodlands Wellington last Wednesday, and drew 1-1 with the Courts Young Lions before that.

Vallee said: "Sure, it is a disadvantage (that some of my players are fasting), but it cannot be an excuse and we must adapt."

His team went through a 70-minute session on Sunday, focusing on drills after the mandatory warm-up.

The likes of Kamel Ramdani, Monsef Zerka and Ismael Benahmed looked sharp and were slamming shots into the back of the net with ease.

But it may well be the silent Latiff who makes the difference on the field on Tuesday night.

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