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Match Preview - Keep the Faith: Ultras Eagles

Photo credit: Geylang International FC

No matter how poorly a football team fared in the previous season, their die-hard supporters will always stay hopeful that their next campaign would be a better one.

It is with this sense of optimism that the sharing of an announcement on the Ultras Eagles (UE) WhatsApp group chat during the year-end festive period set off plenty of buzz and chatters among the members.

"Lots of excitement next season. [Geylang International] Team will be strong and I think we can expect some good results," reads an extract of the message.

It is quickly followed by brief sharing on a new jersey design and future plans to develop Bedok Stadium as the Eagles' homeground, which they last occupied in 2018.

Considering Geylang's underwhelming 2023 season where they finished fifth out of a nine-team Singapore Premier League (SPL), on top of a humiliating group stage exit in the Singapore Cup, the supporter group widely welcomed those news as they offer a glimmer of hope for the club's future.

True enough, the Eagles swiftly secured the services of proven SPL winners Tomoyuki Doi, Ryoya Taniguchi and Keito Hariya, joining the foreign contingent of Vincent Bezecourt, Rio Sakuma and Takahiro Tezuka, who are retained from last year's squad.

The return of young hotshot Zikos Chua, who scored five goals in 21 appearances during his previous stint with Geylang, has raised hopes among fans that the season ahead would be a good one.

However, looking at preseason results, there is clearly much work to be done on the training ground before the 2024-25 season kicks off with an away fixture against Balestier Khalsa on Friday (May 10).

In the four friendlies that involved senior players against local and Malaysian opposition, all ended in defeats with an aggregate score of 12-2.

While some supporters dread another false dawn as has often been the case in recent seasons, others appeal in not being quick to judge the team's prospects based on those results.

As pointed out by UE member Rishi Raja, "Preseason wise, we got to see mostly the Under-21 boys play against the other teams and not much of the new signings. So at this juncture, it will be hard to assess the overall team performance."

Beyond just getting results from those friendlies, a couple of fans recognise that such matches also serve other important purposes.

"Judging from Geylang's social media, these friendlies are a great time for the players to bond with one another and know each other better especially considering that we signed so many new players," long-time supporter Stanley Wong says.

Fellow fan Razni Razak adds, "I went down and saw Geylang manager and coaches trying their best to blend young and senior players in those games. This is a positive development to build up for this season and the coming future."

When asked about their expectations on the team for the new season, there seems to be an agreement among the Geylang faithful that they should be challenging for top-three spots in the SPL given the squad strength.

Newly minted UE chief Idi Bakhtiar hopes that the good performances by the women and lower age group squads would be a motivating force for the senior team to do well.

In the season opener against the Tigers, fans are counting on the Eagles to up their game and establish a winning start to the league campaign.

But it would not be a straightforward affair given that it was not long ago in last August that Geylang were handed a resounding 6-2 defeat by Balestier - a damaging result that ended the club's continental dreams.

Also their Bishan-based opponents have bolstered their attacking prowess with the headline signing of 2022 SPL Player of the Year Kodai Tanaka.

With the Eagles still a work in progress going into the first day of the season, the backing from the Geylang faithful would be put to the test in the coming months.

"Be patient, give them time, and hope for success in the future," Razni urges his fellow fans to keep the faith with their beloved club.

Player to watch: Tomoyuki Doi - The 26-year-old new Japanese signing is well remembered for his deadly finishing in his previous spells with Albirex Niigata and Hougang United from 2020 to 2021 where he scored 30 goals in 35 appearances. His goal exploits for the Cheetahs earned him a Golden Boot accolade in 2021. Without an out-and-out striker last season, Geylang are delighted to have signed a goal machine which they crave for.

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