Depleted Protectors rally for trophy assault
Home leaning on youth to add glory following their AFC Cup Asean zone final win
The long season has taken its toll on Home United, with key players succumbing to long-term injuries one after another.
Yet Home coach Aidil Sharin remains undaunted as he rallies his depleted troops for a late assault on silverware - the RHB Singapore Cup.
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||HOME UNITED|
But first, they must overcome three-time Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions and RHB Singapore Cup holders Albirex Niigata in the semi-finals.
With tonight's first leg at the Jurong East Stadium being the Protectors' third match in eight days, Aidil admits that fatigue might get the better of his team.
He told The New Paper: "Our schedule has been tight this week and the boys have only two days to recover. We really need high levels of fitness to face Albirex, so we could use all the fresh legs we can get."
The Protectors booked their semi-final spot after a hard- fought 3-1 win over Tampines Rovers in the second leg of their first-round tie last Wednesday to overturn a 1-2 first-leg deficit.
Then they followed it up with a pulsating 4-3 win over Warriors FC on Sunday to consolidate their second spot in the SPL. Albirex had also played on Sunday - a 2-2 draw with Hougang United which preceded their trophy presentation - but before that, they had a week's rest.
Tonight's meeting will be their fourth encounter this season and Aidil hopes to make amends for Home's last-minute slip-up against Kazuaki Yoshinaga's men in last month's 1-1 draw at the Bishan Stadium.
The Protectors came close to beating Albirex, before a defensive lapse cost them a goal in the 94th minute.
Like Home, Albirex will not be at full strength tonight, with overlapping fullback Kenya Takahashi and SPL leading scorer Shuhei Hoshino both suspended.
But Aidil believes Albirex still have able replacements. He said: "Everyone knows that Albirex are a smart team who know how to capitalise on your mistakes.
"Every player in Albirex is a key player, which makes them difficult to stop because anyone can score. They have gone unbeaten this season, which shows that they are the better team.
"Also not forgetting that there are two legs, so it's going to be tough, but maybe we can get something good out of it."
Home have been hit hard by injuries in a long campaign in which they became the first local side to win the Asean zone final of the AFC Cup.
Key players such as defender Sirina Camara and fullback Juma'at Jantan suffered season-ending injuries.
Goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah, 24, is the latest long-term casualty due to a shoulder injury.
But it's not all doom and gloom for Aidil, who has been throwing youngsters into the fray. In place of Rudy, the 20-year-old Kenji Rusydi has started in goal as the Protectors won their last three matches.
However, Aidil believes that there is always room for improvement for his young charges.
"I always deal with young players carefully, because they need time," said Aidil.
"Of course, people may tell me that my young players did well, but I expect much more than what they have given because I know they can do better. After all, if we want to reach the final, we have to beat the champions."
TONIGHT'S OTHER SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
- Brunei DPMM v Balestier Khalsa (7.45pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)