A league-winning display of football

Fadhil Yunus

DPMM FC embarked a new chapter in their illustrious history when they entered the 2019 season in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with the appointment of a new coach and a new line-up of foreign imports.

A tell-tale sign of the club ushering in a new era was the announcement that Adrian Pennock as the new head coach. The next order of business was the appointment of fitness and conditioning coach Lindsay Davis, who played an influential role in implementing a new and structured training regime.

The coaching reinforcements were very specific with the nutritional needs of the players and their work focussed on reducing the level of fatigue and tiredness before the start of the season.

These were early indicators of a new direction for the club and their meticulously-planned training translated into form and results.

Contrary to previous training sessions, players went hiking at Tasek Lama and swimming at the aquatics centre in pre-season. Lindsay was monitoring the fitness of the players to ensure that they constantly preserved an optimal level of fitness.

The introduction of the training programme with a firm emphasis on fitness ensured that the team did not fade out in the late stages of matches when fatigue seemed to set in and concentrationlevels dropped.

Pennock had a first glimpse of his squad during a Thailand tour as the final stage of the preparations for the imminent Singapore Premier League season. The work on every single detail that was carried out during pre-season became visible as the Gegar Gegar men conjured a victory intertwined with a statement of intent in their opening fixtures.

“We’ve played at a high intensity but the football we played was very good. Arguably we should have maybe been four or five goals to the good at half-time,” said Pennock after his first competitive away game against Home United.

While the seriousness of the work could not be questioned, the morale of the camp was very high and the players’ smiles illustrated the togetherness and unity of the club in what they wanted to achieve as a whole.

“There is a togetherness here with the whole squad,” he said. “The atmosphere is very good. It’s a shame that I can’t pick 25 players for a game because everybody deserved a start.”

The head coach was impressed with his players in the training sessions, which translated to a number of good performances in the league.

His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah ibni His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office presents the champions’ trophy to DPMM FC team captain Wardun Yussof as Head Coach Adrian Pennock looks on. PHOTOS: INFOFOTO
DPMM FC players celebrating
DPMM FC players and a Warriors FC player in action.
DPMM FC fans celebrate their team’s triumphs.

The Home United game marked Pennock’s first competitive appearance in the Singapore Premier League or any league in Asia. “I really enjoyed the game,” he said. “Everyone on the bench and the coaching staff gets passionate because we want to do so well with this football club. It is a fantastic football club.”

The Brunei-based outfit went on an incredible run of 11 games without defeat, winning eight of them. Then, the club’s first loss of the season in a 3-1 defeat against Tampines Rovers FC opened up the title race but Pennock dismissed the idea of his team feeling the pressure if any, suggesting that there was no problem with their performance.

The Ipswich native hailed the supporters for their involvement and highlighted how the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium was the “best stadium in the league.”

The club would have to wait for a three-week-long break after they played Young Lions as fixtures were being moved.

A win against the Singapore development side would take them to 40 points, usually enough to separate them from the chasing pack and move them ever closer to the championship. However, this wasn’t the case as a Young Lions victory would not necessarily represent room for comfort as rivals like Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S) remained on the hunt.

With nine games to go, the Brunei-based outfit edged Young Lions 1-0 to consolidate their position at the top of the league, having stayed there for the majority of the season.

The head coach highlighted the high spirits and the positive attitude of the players in training, which contributed to the good form on the pitch.

On the prospect of a highly-anticipated encounter with new title contenders Hougang United, fresh from a massive victory against reigning holders Albirex Niigata (S), Pennock said, “I think we just have to play our game. They are just coming out against a very good victory against Albirex and it is a first defeat (White Swans) for a long time.”

“They have very some good players but so do we. We are not under pressure and we are just out there enjoying our football. If we get a result, that will be fantastic.”

At that point in the season, DPMM FC held the record for the most number of clean sheets with seven, as goalkeeper and team captain Wardun Yussof enjoyed possibly his best season in his ninth year in the Singapore top flight.

The head coach heaped praise on his captain but did not single out just one individual as his praise extended to the entire team. “Wardun has been absolutely fantastic for us. He has been very good and so have all the 10 players in front of him.”

“We defend from the front and we press. The front players start from defence so they need credit as well. They worked very hard in front of the defence and the defence has been very solid,” he said. “Everybody works hard defensively, they bring their roles and going forward we’ve been scoring goals as well so the balance is good at the moment.”

The Young Lions game marked the return of Adi Said to the club as a substitute after his career in the Malaysian second tier with UiTM FC was cut short. The local star was utilised in an attacking midfield role and Pennock said that he settled in very well, adding that he was excellent, while also highlighting that all of his players deserved the plaudits on an equal footing.

“He created two or three good chances but I was very pleased with him. But again, I was pleased with everybody. Every game we have, I feel sorry for the boys that I have to leave behind.”

Pennock’s side received a massive blow during the warm-up of the match against Hougang United FC when first-choice goalkeeper Wardun suffered an injury. Forward Andrei Varankou also picked up an injury before half-time and the forward was side-lined for a few games.

Six of the last seven matches for the Gegar Gegar men were played away in a span of two months with their only home game out of those matches being a 2-1 win against Balestier Khalsa at the end of June.

Adi – whose elder brother Shahrazen has been a great servant for the club together with Wardun – was not the youngest of the Said brothers, as Pennock promoted under-16 player Hakeme Yazid into the senior team. He made an instant impact after scoring in his club debut during the 3-0 win against Geylang International FC.

This season also witnessed the revival of full-back Awangku Fakharrazi as a series of fine individual displays led to healthy competition with Helmi Zambin.

After back-to-back losses against Hougang and Home United, DPMM FC boosted their title hopes with a 2-0 win against Albirex Niigata (S), a game which signified an end to the White Swans title reign from the 2016 season.

Pennock acknowledged how tough it was to play Albirex and heaped praise to his charges after the victory. “We know with Albirex, you have to be organised. You can’t just play the game off the cuffs. You have to keep a good shape.”

“I know we have chances so it is a case of taking our chances, and when we had our chances, we took them,” he said, highlighting that their good work ethic, staying patient and being aggressive in the right areas adding that they forced errors from Albirex through their pressing.

Fresh from the home win against Albirex, their next assignment in the title race was another crucial tie against Warriors FC.

Though satisfied with their position at the time, despite not being talked about as title contenders at the start of the season, the club would not rest on a runner-up finish as they expressed their intent of capturing the title.

Speaking with three games left to go in the season, Pennock said, “I think it has a been a very good season whatever happens from now. I don’t think anyone would have thought with three games to go, we would have been on top with a game in hand.”

“It is very exciting but we have to do our job and we have to do our job now. We know what we’re up against. It’s been a very good season so far but we want a very, very good season,” said the head coach.

Pennock had no intentions to change their tactics defensively and kept what had helped them to their position at the summit of the table. “I don’t think we should be careful or cautious. We’ve just got to do what we have been doing all season and play good football and winning games. The football that we’ve played have been very good and very organised.”

“I want us to go for three points like we do every week. Nothing changes and obviously the boys know what I want from them. Nothing changes at all whatever team we’re playing and whatever is on the line.”

The Gegar Gegar men would go on to collect all three points in a 3-0 win over Warriors FC, and after doing so, DPMM FC were confirmed as champions with two games to go following Hougang’s draw with Geylang International.