Tampines trim Albirex's lead to four points
Tampines breathe new life into title race after battling win over Albirex
TAMPINES ROVERS 1
(Fazrul Nawaz 80)
ALBIREX NIIGATA 0
Not even a deficit that has stretched to 10 points earlier in the season stopped Tampines Rovers from believing that they can still win the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title.
Stags skipper Mustafic Fahrudin issued the defiant rallying cry after leading his team to a crucial 1-0 win over league leaders Albirex Niigata at the Jurong West Stadium last night.
The hard-fought victory cut the White Swans' lead at the summit to just four points with eight league games left and breathed new life into the title race.
"Even when we were behind by 10 points, we still believed we can still overtake Albirex to win the league," said Mustafic.
"With the quality we have, we can beat any team.
"We have shown that when it comes to the crunch, we can step up, like we did against Selangor and Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup, and now against Albirex.
"We struggled because we had a congested fixtures list but, with the AFC Cup group stage over, we can focus more on the league and it has shown through our resurgence."
For the 1,433 fans hoping for a goal feast after both teams' respective last three games yielded a combined total of 34 goals, the final score might have been a bit of a letdown.
But it was a superb tactical victory for Tampines coach Akbar Nawas, who managed to stifle the Japanese side last night.
Stags goalkeeper Joey Sim did not have any big saves to make against the White Swans, who had scored a league-high 38 goals in 15 previous games.
It was the hosts who frequently made inroads down the right flank through winger Jordan Webb and right back Jufri Taha, with Jermaine Pennant pulling the strings in the middle of the park, alongside the selfless Billy Mehmet who was industrious throughout as he dropped deep to win aerial challenges.
Still, the famed Albirex defence, which conceded just 11 in 15 games before last night, held firm for most parts of the game.
But, with a huge dose of fortune, Tampines found the winner in the 80th minute, when Fazrul Nawaz latched on to Shakir Hamzah's clever long through-ball and his cross was diverted into goal by Mikiya Yamada for his seventh goal of the season, continuing his record of scoring in all of Akbar's four games in charge.
Not only did the Stags extend their winning run to four games, they also ended Albirex's winning streak at 10.
"This is a big win and I would be lying if I said I'm not happy that the win came at Albirex's expense," said Akbar, who has a 100 per cent record since taking over from V Sundramoorthy.
"It was a great performance because we were patient to wait for the right moment to get the goal, and we defended superbly as a team.
"This is our first clean sheet since I took over and one that everyone involved can be proud of.
"Since I took over, I have told the team that our target is to win the next game.
"So far, we have done that and we will keep working hard to keep it going and see where that takes us."
- TAMPINES: Joey Sim, Jufri Taha, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shakir Hamzah (Afiq Yunos 82), Irwan Shah, Jordan Webb (Sufian Anuar 90), Jermaine Pennant, Izzdin Shafiq, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Billy Mehmet, Fazrul Nawaz (Ismadi Mukhtar 87).
- ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Tomoki Menda, Mikiya Yamada (Daichi Ishiyama 87), Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Naofumi Tanaka, Tatsuro Inui, Kento Nagasaki (Masaya Jitozono 87), Shuto Inaba, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Kazuki Mine 64), Atsushi Kawata.
- TNP Man of the Match: Billy Mehmet (Tampines)
- OTHER RESULT: Balestier 1 Brunei DPMM 4