Are Warriors FC contenders or pretenders?
High-flying Warriors must prove their title credentials against arch-rivals Home United
|WARRIORS FC||HOME UNITED|
After five matches, they sit pretty in second place on 13 points in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League, trailing league leaders Albirex Niigata only on goal difference.
Warriors FC will face a stern test of their title credentials when they clash with arch-rivals Home United at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium tomorrow night.
The Warriors are record nine-time winners of the 22-year-old S.League, but lifted the S.League trophy only once - in 2014 - in the last six seasons.
Their opponents, Home, are arguably the most in-form team in the S.League at the moment.
They are third in the table despite having played one game fewer than the Warriors and Albirex, scoring 13 goals in four games.
On Tuesday, the Protectors also booked their place in the knock-out stages of the continental AFC Cup competition with a 4-1 win over Myanmar champions Yadanarbon.
Despite Home's scoring form, Warriors' defensive stalwart Hafiz Osman is bullish about his side's chances tomorrow.
"Yes, Home United are on fire right now but, every time we play at home, our mindset is to collect maximum points," said the 33-year-old.
"Right now, we are not thinking about winning the league yet. But we will work hard to beat Home and show that we mean business."
Hafiz was part of the all-conquering Warriors side that swept four straight S.League titles from 2006 to 2009.
He left the club in 2012 and played for Tanjong Pagar United and then Geylang International, before returning to the Warriors last season.
And he is eager to bring back the glory days to the Choa Chu Kang-based club.
Said Hafiz: "We have had a good start but, with the status of a club like Warriors, this should be the way anyway.
"What I see is that we have players who are really eager to win the league.
"Everyone is showing the hunger in games and in training, and there's a real strong bond in the dressing room."
The Warriors will be counting on striker Joel Tshibamba to deliver the goals against Home United tomorrow.
The Dutch-Congolese striker fired blanks in his first two games, but he has since broken his duck and has scored thrice in the last two matches.
Tshibamba will be ably supported in attack by national skipper Shahril Ishak, who has set his sights on an S.League winners' medal this year.
The veteran forward, who is a new signing from Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim II together with defender Baihakki Khaizan, has been in fine form this season.
Even though he has scored just one goal, he has played a big part in the Warriors' 13-goal tally.
"At the start of the season, not many people gave us a real chance," said Shahril.
"But we are now up there after a few games and we've shown we are capable of doing something this season.
"We know our strengths and we play to them, and it has worked for us so far."
Shahril and Hafiz are unfazed by jibes from rival players about the Warriors being a "Dad's Army".
The duo, together with Baihakki and winger Ridhuan Muhammad, all turn 33 this year. Another winger, Fazli Jaffar, turns 34.
But Shahril says their "senior status" only drives them on.
"We see it as a challenge," he said.
"For example, Home have a lot of youngsters so many people think they can easily beat us, but we are fired up to prove our doubters wrong."