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Match Preview: Hairul's Acrobatic Goalkeeping Earns Plaudits

Photo credit: Geylang International FC

"Stay in the box!" shouted an exasperated Eagles fan from the stand as Geylang International goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan recklessly ran out of the penalty area to challenge for a loose ball during a Singapore Premier League match.

It was one of Hairul's many heartstopping moments that diehard supporter Martini Abdul Talib feared the most whenever the 28-year-old goalie turned out in a Geylang shirt during his previous stint with the club from 2019 to 2021.

When Hairul was re-signed by the Eagles for the 2024-25 season, Martini had mixed feelings. "On the one hand, I thought Geylang could have gotten a different keeper. On the flip side, perhaps Hairul had learnt much from his time in Balestier and has returned as a better player."

Ultras Eagles chief Idi Bakhtiar also expressed similar reservation on the Eagles' goalkeeping department. "I wish we have someone better in goal as we had 'keepers problem' in past seasons."

While Hairul did not keep a clean sheet in a 2-2 draw against Balestier Khalsa last week, his back-to-back reflex saves near the end of the match was crucial in preventing Geylang from going home empty-handed and he soon became the talk of the town.

"It was a big improvement to his previous games," notes Ultras Eagles fan Fabian Siew. "The outfield players should pay Hairul part of their wages."

Even Martini, a well-intended critic of Hairul, has good words for the former Eagles academy player. "I like the alertness and agility that he showed throughout the game."

But Hairul's man of the match performance exposed weaknesses in Geylang's backline. Fabian cautions, "I rather him not be in the limelight in every game. That would mean Geylang defence is not doing well."

Indeed, Hairul is expected to be even busier between the sticks in his next assignment against five-time league champions Tampines Rovers this Friday (May 17).

Geylang only kept one clean sheet in their previous 45 meetings with their more illustrious Eastern neighbours.

The 1.78m custodian will also be in the crosshairs of Boris Kopitovic. The Montenegrin hotshot had scored a record-high of 10 goals in previous Eastern derbies.

Hairul may well take heed of Martini's words of advice as he prepares for the upcoming tough fixture and more challenges in the season ahead. "He could have worked on his judgement and be less kanchiong. I think sometimes he puts the team in danger because of goalkeeper stunts," shares the vocal fan.

Team news: Rio Sakuma is a doubt for the derby due to a calf injury. Should the Japanese first-choice centre-back fail to recover in time, Keito Hariya and Joshua Pereira will continue their partnership in the centre of defence.

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