S.League: Banking on home form

Tanjong Pagar's French midfielder Sebastien Etiemble, (in red and white) in action during a friendly match against Albirex Niigata at Queenstown Stadium on 12 February 2014.

HARIMAU MUDA B vs TANJONG PAGAR (Monday, 8.45pm, Pasir Gudang Stadium)

They surprised many last season, claiming the scalps of Tampines Rovers, Warriors FC and Woodlands Wellington.

But Harimau Muda B fizzled out in the end, and finished 11th out of 12 teams.

Coach Razip Ismail is well aware his young side will have it even tougher in their second S.League season, especially after losing several key players.

To avoid finishing in the bottom three, he is banking on making their Pasir Gudang Stadium a fortress this season.

"We achieved some very good results (in Johor) last year, and we must try and do the same this time around," Razip said.

"I think the Singapore teams will be more familiar with Pasir Gudang this time around, but our home support can still give us an edge over any team."

Harimau Muda will begin their 2014 campaign when they host Tanjong Pagar on Monday night.

WINS

Six of their eight wins last year came on home turf, including 3-0 victories over eventual champions Tampines and the Jaguars.

This year, however, matches at Pasir Gudang will kick off under the floodlights at 8.45pm, instead of 4.45pm.

Not playing under the hot, afternoon sun is a welcome change for visiting teams, said Tanjong Pagar coach Patrick Vallee yesterday.

"I remember our 3-0 defeat in Johor last year. It was a very difficult match because of the heat," Vallee said.

"We played okay, but just couldn't score. Then, we conceded two penalties - sometimes, football is like that.

"Playing in the evening is much better for everyone, but tomorrow's game is our first and it's hard to know what to expect." Tanjong Pagar, who last season finished sixth in the league and runners-up in the Singapore Cup, must do without suspended marquee man Monsef Zerka on Monday night.

The Jaguars, though, will unleash new French midfielder Sebastien Etiemble and ex-Home United winger Firdaus Idros on Harimau.

Vallee, who wants his team to mount a title challenge this year, is wary of the threat posed by the Malaysian side even though they appear, on paper, weaker than last season.

Fewer than five players from last season have been retained, with key midfielders Ridzuan Abdunloh and Faizat Ghazli promoted to the Harimau Muda A side, and many others poached by M-League teams.

Said Vallee: "I saw them in friendlies recently. They may be a new team, but their style and philosophy are the same - short passes, high pressing and they are very fit.

"I think Harimau Muda can be better than last season.

"For us, playing without Zerka will be more difficult, but, after two months of pre-season, we are ready."

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