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Match Preview: Lack of Squad Depth a Worry for Eagles

Photo credit: Geylang International FC

An ill-planned transfer strategy prior to the start of the 2023 Singapore Premier League season has returned to haunt Geylang International, after they have suffered two straight losses and are mired fifth in the league, seven points adrift of third-placed Lion City Sailors.

After a promising - albeit inconsistent - start to the campaign (4W, 1D, 3L) which saw the Eagles hovering in the upper reaches of the table and even topping it at one point, the recent slump in form and drop in league position have raised alarm bells among the Geylang community.

One problem that had been papered over by those joys of victories but was agonisingly exposed in the latest defeats to Lion City Sailors and Hougang United is the weak squad depth.

While the Sailors could call upon Shawal Anuar from the bench to earn a free-kick that led to their comeback victory over the Eagles, Cheetahs substitute Gabriel Quak went one step further against the men in green five days later when he not only netted from the penalty spot, but also laid on a crucial pass for his teammate Kristijan Krajcek to score a last-gasp winner.

Unfortunately, Geylang do not have the luxury of a strong bench that can turn defeats into victories.

Save for Naufal Azman who played creditably with his brace in the Hougang loss, the other bench options have been less than inspiring, comprising of unpolished youth players, run-of-the-mill professionals in their twenties, and veterans who are past their prime years.

The seeds of the Eagles' on-field circumstances were sown in pre-season when transfer dealings were haphazardly done.

While the club management are to be commended for being quick in retaining the services of foreign players like Vincent Bezecourt, Takahiro Tezuka and Rio Sakuma as well as adding Yushi Yamaya from Yokohama Marinos to their ranks, the approach in their transactions of Singaporean footballers left much to be desired.

After releasing local talents like Zaiful Nizam, Umar Ramle and Hazzuwan Halim, the club was not fast enough in snapping up the best in the market and even waited till the eleventh hour of the transfer window to sign those who were still unattached.

Until the opening of the mid-season transfer window on June 1, Geylang head coach Noor Ali has to contend with the players at his disposal for two more fixtures starting with the home match against Tanjong Pagar United this Sunday (May 21).

Worse news was to hit the Eagles camp on the eve of the clash when it was announced that Huzaifah Aziz joins Joshua Pereira and Noor Ariff on the treatment table and is potentially ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Short of midfield options who can shield the defence, coach Noor has to dip into his depleting reserves and call again on the services of academy player Azri Suhaili, who made only his second appearance of the season in the last match against Hougang.

Whoever the replacement may be, the upcoming home fixture will not be a walk in the park.

Even though the seventh-placed Jaguars head into the clash losing four games on the trot, the latest Cheetahs defeat serves a timely reminder that no SPL side regardless of their league position are to be underestimated.

The Eagles, who are two spots above the Jaguars, have to respect their opponents for there to be a chance of ending their run of straight defeats.

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