DPMM FC head coach Adrian Pennock said that his team will relish the prospect of carrying the tag of underdogs ahead of their long-awaited opening Singapore Premier League fixture against Tampines Rovers FC at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium tonight.
Pennock highlighted that a number of leading teams in the league have stepped up recruitment in their attempt to wrestle the title from foreign opposition for the first time since 2014.
The trio of Tampines Rovers FC, Hougang United and Albirex Niigata (S) will be among the title contenders this season with newly privatised Lion City Sailors FC (formerly known as Home United) also favoured while the likes of Balestier Khalsa and Geylang International FC could prove to be similarly solid.
“Obviously the favourites this year will be Tampines, Hougang, Lion City Sailors and Albirex. They will be stronger and even the likes of Balestier, who finished bottom last year, have recruited very well,” Pennock told the Bulletin on Wednesday.
“They (Balestier) only lost 1-0 to Tampines last week where they should have won the game. They look very strong and I know Geylang have two players sent off and they lost 4-0 in that game. But, all the Singapore-based teams have recruited very well.”
The Ipswich native indicated that it will be difficult to retain the trophy but will happily accept the role of underdogs.
He said, “It will be a tall order for us to retain the trophy but we like being the underdogs. We want the crowd to turn up like they did last year for us.”
Pennock also heaped praise to the supporters and called the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium as the league’s finest.
“The Singapore Premier League can do whatever they want to us as a team but what they can’t do is take away the best stadium and the best supporters in the league by far. We hope to surprise a few people this year,” affirmed the head coach.
Asked about the atmosphere in the training ground ahead of their delayed start to the season, he said, “The team spirit is very good and the boys are looking forward to the game (against Tampines).”
The head coach also found the new ruling where his side are only allowed three foreign imports to be “incredible” while the rest of the Singapore clubs are able to accommodate one additional player.
“The rule this season is incredible. We are not allowed to have the same number of foreign players as the Singaporean teams.
“I find it incredible because imagine if Liverpool winning the league this year which they will do and then the next season the Premier League got up to Liverpool and said you’re only allowed three and others are allowed to have more. I think there will be uproar.
“It should be a level playing field and from the start it is not. But, we are Brunei DPMM FC and we were up against it last year. We will be up against it this year but we are really looking forward to it.”
Pennock also hopes to bring in young players into the team.
“What I want to do this year is blend some young players from Brunei. We’ve got an ageing squad so I’d like to bring in young players. The future of DPMM FC is important,” he said.
He continued, “If they are good enough like Keme (Hakeme) last year who scored on his debut, they will play. I think the results this year will be mixed. There will be some ups and downs this year.”
The former Gillingham manager also highlighted the potential effect the supporters could bring during the home games.
“If we can have the supporters to come along in numbers like last year and get the drums going and get the fans behind the team, I’m sure we will cause a few upsets and again, we are not being talked about to win the league.”
The club have added new players this season with youth player Hanif Farhan Azman earning his promotion to the senior team and the arrival of deputy goalkeeper Azriel Arman from MS ABDB.
With the duo in line for their first taste of an international football league, he said, “It will be difficult for them but it will be a great experience. I’ll have plenty of patience with them because patience is very important especially to young players.”
Pennock has also been frequenting Brunei Super League matches in search of local players with the possibility of bringing two or three more players during the next transfer window.