Stags show spirit
Tampines come from behind twice to draw with Warriors
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Aleksandar Duric 52, Miljan Mrdakovic 54, Marin Vidosevic 90+4-og)
WARRIORS FC 3
(Nicholas Velez 20, Miroslav Pejic 23-pen, Abdil Qaiyyim 90-og)
No pace, no power, no verve - and no more drive.
Tampines Rovers have had to face varied criticism this season, but if their opponents in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League think that they have cracked the code and are poised to knock the defending champions off their perch, they will need to think again.
After a shocking first half at the Clementi Stadium last night, where the Stags' faults were dragged out into the spotlight, they morphed into a different animal, with more fight, more bite and came from behind twice to draw 3-3 with a shell-shocked Warriors FC.
"There is still fight left in this team. The first half was disastrous, we were rubbish, and then we started fighting, biting," said skipper Mustafic Fahrudin.
"We're still struggling with injuries to six players, but when we get back, we can still win the title."
The Stags looked like has-beens ready to surrender their three-year hold on the S.League title from the first whistle, with Nicholas Velez and Miroslav Pejic tormenting the Tampines defence with their movement and vision.
The duo found the net in three minutes, with Velez scoring at the near post in the 20th minute, and Pejic slotting in a harshly awarded penalty three minutes later.
Alex Weaver's Warriors looked set to cruise to the finish, but Rafi Ali threw on 43-year-old Aleksandar Duric in the 41st minute, and the old warhorse changed the game.
He covered every blade of grass, but crucially, was sharp where it counted. He scored in the 52nd minute, inspiring Tampines to another - through Miljan Mrdakovic, just two minutes later.
Unfazed even by a 90th-minute Abdil Qaiyyim own goal, Tampines pressed on and equalised with the last kick of the game, with the unfortunate Marin Vidosevic slamming Matthew Abraham's effort into his own goal after the youngster was superbly released by Duric.
The points were shared, but Tampines clearly won a massive psychological battle over their old rivals.
"The boys are down, they're devastated. We put ourselves in (a winning position in the 90th minute) and then went to throw it away," said a downcast Weaver.
"We're very, very disappointed. But you have to give credit to (Tampines), they took their chances."
Starting with what looked like a back five, and three in midfield, Rafi changed to a more standard, combative 4-4-2 in the second half.
While the tactical tweak worked, the former Singapore international was more pleased with his charges.
"We're getting stuck in, and we're getting there... and they really wanted to win.
"And Aleks, he played a wonderful game and really made an impact," said Rafi, who was taking charge of just his second game as Tampines' interim coach.
His first match was also a draw, 1-1 with Albirex Niigata last week.
Tampines have won just two of their last nine games since the start of April, but they are still third in the league on 21 points, four adrift of leaders Brunei DPMM, and behind second-placed Warriors on goal difference.
"I'm very, very happy, and I'm confident that we can turn the corner," said Rafi.
Duric, who was TNP's Man of the Match, already has his eye on the next fixture, against old rivals Home United on May 18.
"This match didn't quite feel like a win, but it was a very good point that we earned. We needed that confidence boost," he said.
"We need to build on that second-half performance, because next we will face Home, and it will be tough - again."
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
- Aleksandar Duric (Tampines)
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULT
- Albirex 4 Geylang 2
- Hougang v Balestier (7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Brunei DPMM v Tanjong Pagar (8.15pm, Bandar Seri Begawan)
Battle of the big cats
HOUGANG v BALESTIER
After a stunning start to the season that saw them surge to the top of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League table, Hougang United seemed to have lost steam.
Amin Nasir's charges have lost three of their last four games and were only the second side to fall to the Courts Young Lions this year.
They will look to prevent a full-on slide when they face Balestier Khalsa tonight.
The Balestier Tigers were on a poor run as well. They were winless in six games before beating Harimau Muda B 2-0 in their last fixture.
Balestier's effervescent Park Kang Jin looks likely to start on the bench tonight, which will give Amin's Cheetahs a boost.
Firman Hanif and Fazli Jaffar are suspended for Hougang, but Durica Zuparic and Nurhilmi Jasni are able replacements for them.