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 By Gabriel Tan

Tampines Rovers aim to end unbeaten run of Albirex in S.League

Tampines Rovers will be looking to claim two unbeaten victims in a row by inflicting a first defeat of the season on S.League leaders Albirex Niigata (S) at Jurong West Stadium on Sunday evening.

The Stags put on a fine display last Friday to hand Home United their first loss of the campaign, overtaking the Protectors into second place in the S.League standings in the process.

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They are now just four points off the pace. While victory on Saturday would still not be enough to see them claim top spot, Tampines' coach Jurgen Raab is aware just how crucial a positive result would be.

"After the win against Home United, we have the chance to close the gap at the top of the table and that is the target," the German said on the S.League's official website.

"Just like Home, Albirex are a tough opponent. We were unlucky in the first encounter against them in the Community Shield [a 2-1 defeat] because we could have won that match.

"This shows that we are capable of matching Albirex."

Jurgen Raab and Khairul Amri of Tampines Rovers
Coach Jurgen Raab, seen here with national striker Khairul Amri, says Tampines can match Albirex.

After a shaky start to 2017, which saw them lose six of their opening nine matches in all competitions, the Stags have won five of their past six outings.

The returns of talismanic striker Khairul Amri and playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman from injury have been a huge boost. But the likes of Shakir Hamzah and Yasir Hanapi -- thriving in a new role further forward -- have also played a big role in the turnaround of their fortunes.

It is the improvement his charges have made in recent weeks that further fuels Raab's belief that they can give the White Swans a run for their money.

"We are unbeaten in the last few matches and I can see that the team have improved and there is stability in defence," he added. "Confidence is high in the team and we have a good possibility to put pressure on the leaders.

"It is a nice situation for the league, where there are a few teams at the top and so close together, which makes it exciting for the fans.

"We believe we are prepared and now we will show it in the match. Most of the players are available.

"If Albirex put in a better performance and win this match, I will accept it. But we will go in with a winning mentality."

Although Tampines will arguably enter Sunday's clash as slight underdogs, they did enjoy a good record against their upcoming opponents in 2016.

In three league meetings last year, they managed two victories, including an emphatic 5-1 triumph on the final day of the campaign, although Albirex had sewn up the title by then.

Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.

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