Tampines Rovers maintain second spot in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday evening.
A goal just before half-time from Madhu Mohana was enough to keep the Stags in second spot on goal difference ahead of Home United who stole a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Hougang United.
The international break effect was visible as both teams looked lethargic into the opening exchanges with limited chances at both ends.
The home team almost conceded an early goal in the fourth minute when Irwan Shah gave away the ball and Sanjin Vrebac went past one defender, only to see Syazwan Buhari pull off a good save.
It was Tampines’ turn to threaten on seven minutes through Khairul Amri. After some good work down the right flank from Ryutaro Megumi, the Japanese flashed a pinpoint cross into the box but Amri’s desperate lunge failed to get anywhere near the ball.
Tampines then had two penalty shouts waived off when Ahmad Syahir looked to have handled in the box while Amirul Adli was left fuming in the 34th minute after he was brought down by Khalil Khalif, only for referee Lim Liang Yi to point for a goal-kick.
The game finally saw the first goal on 38 minutes through a corner kick from the right. Yasir Hanapi put it on a platter for Madhu to thump home an unstoppable header unmarked.
There was even time right at the stroke of half-time for Madhu to chip a ball over the entire Balestier defence, only for Amri’s cute header to come off the post.
Balestier came out fighting in the second period and almost got the equaliser within two minutes when Fadli Kamis rifled in a shot that was palmed away by an alert Syazwan in goal.
It was Fadli again who had a golden opportunity right in front of goal in the 52nd minute when Huzaifah Aziz’s long throw saw Keegan Linderboom flick a header off for the right-back, who contrived to smash his shot way over the bar.
Tampines went down the other end four minutes later when Megumi dribbled past a static Tigers defence and crossed to an unmarked Amri but the national team forward’s half-volley failed to find the intended target.
The home side had another glorious chance on 60 minutes when Megumi’s cross evaded the entire defence but substitute Hafiz Sujad’s first-time strike at the far0post was tipped away for a corner by Zaiful Nizam.
Balestier tried in vain to find the equaliser but just could not apply the finishing touch in the final third as Tampines walked away with a valuable three points in their fight for second spot.
The Stags will now look forward to their next league fixture away to Brunei DPMM on September 22 while Balestier take on the same opponent at Toa Payoh Stadium seven days later.
Tampines Head Coach Jurgen Raab: “I think it was a deserved victory. You know the situation (in the table), it is very tight with three matches to go before today. If you make a mistake, you lose the position so it was important we got the three points and kept our position, that’s the most important thing.
“Balestier came with nothing to lose, our team was a little nervous at the beginning and we need to have better starts because we only got going after 15 to 20 minutes. The goal came at a good time and it helped my players to have more confidence. Over all, I’m happy with a clean sheet and I hope this result gives the team confidence in the final two games.”
Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “I’m not really happy with the result because I want to get more points and hopefully catch Warriors. We should have scored in the first 20 minutes then it would have been a totally different game. Tampines were not at their best today and we didn’t allow them much space but we were unlucky.
“I told them to watch out for their set-pieces because they have quality delivery and good players who can head the ball and we conceded an unnecessary corner and they score. Second half we tried, Fadli had two shots but honestly, after such a long break, both teams didn’t really do well.”
Tampines Rovers: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Madhu Mohana, Irfan Najeeb (Shah Shahiran 80’), Daniel Bennett (C), Irwan Shah, Amirul Adli (Taufik Suparno 87’), Shameer Aziq, Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Hafiz Sujad 45’), Ryutaro Megumi, Yasir Hanapi, Khairul Amri
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK)(C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Khalil Khalif (Afiq Salman Tan 68’), Ahmad Syahir, Huzaifah Aziz, Sufianto Salleh, Fariz Faizal (Zakir Samsudin 53’), Hazzuwan Halim, Sanjin Vrebac (Akbar Shah Zainudeen 89’), Keegan Linderboom