Tampines win but coach Akbar worried about leaky defence
Coach Akbar voices concern about his leaky defence
BALESTIER KHALSA 2
(Miroslav Kristic 64, Fadli Kamis 90)
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Billy Mehmet 6, Fazrul Nawaz 43, 74)
Tampines Rovers' free-scoring ways under new head coach Akbar Nawas continued last night, when they overcame a rejuvenated Balestier Khalsa 3-2 in their Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Stags have adopted an attacking philosophy since Akbar took over the reins from recently appointed national coach V Sundramoorthy and, while their gung-ho approach has seen them plunder an impressive 13 goals in their last three matches, it has left them somewhat exposed at the back.
It was more of the same last night, as Tampines had to rely on a brace by Fazrul Nawaz and a strike from Billy Mehmet to outscore Balestier, who did not do themselves any favours by missing a catalogue of chances.
While pleased with the result, Akbar admitted his charges were lucky.
"After they (Balestier) got their second goal, I thought they would nick it in the end," said the former Marine Castle player.
"We were quite lucky to win 3-2.
"Everyone could see that we took our foot off the pedal after going 2-0 up but, as much as I want my players to play a certain type of way, I also have to take into account that they have played many games in a short period and this will take a toll on them.
"And it will also take time for the players to fully adapt to the new style and that comes with continuous training.
"Credit to the players who fought and got us the result and credit to Balestier - they gave us a tough time."
The Stags opened the scoring after six minutes.
Jermaine Pennant's delivery from a corner was met well by skipper Mustafic Fahrudin and Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam could only palm the ball into the path of Mehmet, who rifled home the rebound.
Those who felt Balestier would buckle after the early goal were in for a surprise.
The Tigers came close to restoring parity, but were left frustrated after Fadli Kamis and Fazli Ayob were both unable to convert good chances.
Fazrul punished Balestier for their wastefulness just before half-time, albeit with a slice of luck.
The national striker latched onto substitute Irwan Shah's through-ball before trying to find Mehmet with a low cross, but his delivery was deflected back to him and he needed no invitation to sweep home Tampines' second goal.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic threw on Fadhil Noh, Tan Danial Farhan and Jamil Ali after the interval and the changes seemed to breathe life into the Tigers, who went on the attack.
They were denied in the 51st minute, when Tampines custodian Joey Sim pulled off a spectacular double save to keep out Niko Tokic and then Zulkiffli Hassim. They wasted yet another chance minutes later, when Miroslav Kristic dragged his shot wide.
The Tigers finally struck in the 64th minute, when Tokic's brilliantly lofted pass found Kristic, who finished with aplomb.
Fazrul looked to have settled affairs when he fired home his second in the 74th minute, making a late dart into the penalty box to connect with Jordan Webb's cross.
But Tampines were made to sweat when the Tigers pulled a goal back in stoppage time, with Fadhil slamming the ball into an empty net after a scramble in the Tampines penalty box.
Kraljevic praised his players and was magnanimous in defeat.
"We started the game slowly in the first half and conceded two goals but, in the second half, we played better and scored and we put pressure on them," said the German-born Croat.
"But they had a counter-attack, they scored and then we scored again, but it was too late. We played against one of the best teams in the country tonight and my boys did a good job and gave them a good game.
"We are improving game by game and I am happy with that."
- BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Fadil Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Hanafi Salleh, Zulkiffli Hassim (Jamil Ali 63), Fazli Ayob (Tan Danial Farhan 46), Emir Lotinac, Syafiq Zainal (Fadhil Noh 46), Miroslav Kristic, Niko Tokic
- TAMPINES: Joey Sim, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Jordan Webb (Christopher van Huizen 80), Izzdin Shafiq, Yasir Hanapi, Jermaine Pennant (Irwan Shah 37), Fazrul Nawaz, Billy Mehmet (Fabian Kwok 72)
TNP Man of the Match: Fazrul Nawaz (Tampines)