Geylang International midfielder Umar Akhbar's recent run in the first team has coincided with the club's back-to-back league victories against Tanjong Pagar United (1-0) and Balestier Khalsa (2-0).
His all-action play in those games has not gone unnoticed and has received widespread praise from the Eagles faithful. Currently playing his best football since joining the Tampines-based side as a youth player in 2015, the 26-year-old is poised for a breakout season.
But that did not seem to be the prospect at the start of this season. Appearing as a four-minute substitute against Lion City Sailors at the opening match, he then warmed the bench against Hougang United and was omitted from the matchday squad for the remaining five Round 1 fixtures.
His minutes on the pitch only started to pick up when the second round of the league campaign commenced. But with Geylang International head coach Noor Ali preferring Huzaifah Aziz in the middle of the pitch, Umar was limited to substitute appearances for the first five Round 2 fixtures.
Lady Luck then came knocking before the Jaguars encounter and the one-club player grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Originally named on the bench for that home fixture, he was slotted into the first team at the eleventh hour after Abdil Qaiyyim pulled out due to discomfort.
Positioned in a three-man midfield alongside Takahiro Tezuka and Huzaifah, the box-to-box midfielder - who modelled his play after France's N'Golo Kanté - put in a tireless performance and was ever present on both sides of the field. His enthusiasm to challenge for every ball gave the opponents little time to dictate play and provided a platform for the Eagles to take shots at goal, especially in the first half.
Umar's strong display against Tanjong Pagar United was rewarded with another starting berth against Balestier Khalsa. Other than his usual combative playing style, the diminutive midfielder added an attacking bite to his game. He played a part in Geylang International's second goal when one of his direct passes found his teammate Hazzuwan Halim who rifled the ball into the net.
With Huzaifah returning from his one-match suspension, Umar would hope to cement his role as the engine room of the team ahead of the Young Lions clash this Friday (July 8).
While the Under-23 developmental side are rooted to the bottom of the table, it is worth noting that the four points collected from the campaign came against their earlier encounters against the Eagles - a 4-1 thumping followed by a 2-2 draw.
Facing a bogey team, Geylang International cannot afford another slip-up in their quest to ascend the league table. It would be sensible for Coach Noor to plug Umar the Energizer to power the former giants to victory.
Team news: Huzaifah Aziz returns from his one-match suspension, but may be kept out of the first team squad given Umar Akhbar's recent strong performances.
On the defensive front, Coach Noor Ali will be missing some options with Kieran Teo participating in the AFF Under-19 Championship, Fadli Kamis recovering from his cruciate ligament injury, and Abdil Qaiyyim being stricken with coronavirus. The Singaporean coach is likely to retain the same backline that was deployed in the previous game.