Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas said Wednesday's positive result in their last S.League encounter against champions Albirex Niigata was no indication of what is in store for them during Saturday's Singapore Cup final.
Nawas' side, despite resting some of their regulars including ex-Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, romped to a 5-1 win over Albirex, who were also without their full-strength lineup at the Jalan Besar stadium. However, Tampines showed unmatchable hunger and took a 3-0 lead at half-time helped by goals from Billy Mehmet, Jordan Webb and Diego Silvas.
In the second half, Shahdan Sulaiman and Silvas, once again, added to the woes of Albirex, who had Daichi Ishiyama scoring a late consolation goal after which they were crowned the S.League champions. Notably, the White Swans clinched the league title after beating Hougang United 3-0 two weeks ago while Tampines finished as the highest-placed local club.
While the Stags have been marred by doubts over the futures of their big names, including Pennant and Mehmet along with the Singapore internationals in the team, due to reports of pay cut, the win over league leaders would have boosted the morale in their camp.
However, Wednesday's result will not matter much when Tampines and Albirex, bolstered by the presence of their top stars, meet for one final time in the season in the battle for the Singapore Cup glory on 30 October, according to Nawas.
"Tonight's game is not, in any way, an indication of what will happen on Saturday. 5-1, 6-1, or 7-1, it doesn't matter," Nawas was quoted as saying by The New Paper.
"There's no point wondering whether their morale is low, or if our morale is high. Everyone was quiet because we knew if we had played this way more regularly this season, we could have become [S.League] champions."
On the other hand, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo shrugged off loss in momentum ahead of the big final following consecutive league defeats. Days before being thrashed by Tampines, the White Swans also lost 3-1 to Home United, who went on to clinch a berth in 2017 AFC Cup group stages.
The 42-year-old also said his side is wary of Tampines' quality, that calls for their side to be at their best if they are to win the quadruple this season. Notably, Albirex also sealed the Community Shield and the League Cup.
"You can see from tonight's game how tough it is to win the S.League title. So I am very proud we did it," Naruo said.
"To me, Tampines have the best squad in the S.League. We have to play our brand of football and show spirit to win. We have to be at our best."