Tampines fired up for Cup final
Tampines seal second spot and coach Akbar says players are motivated for Saturday's finale
TAMPINES ROVERS 2
(Shakir Hamzah 39, Billy Mehmet 92)
BALESTIER KHALSA 0
Jermaine Pennant spun round his marker, held him off, and looked to spread the ball wide to Tampines Rovers teammate Ismadi Mukhtar.
Unfortunately for the former English Premier League star, the ball took a slight bobble just as he made contact, and rolled harmlessly out of play.
Cue a collective groan from supporters at the Jurong West Stadium, as Pennant hung his head in frustration.
Tampines went on to beat Balestier Khalsa 2-0 on Saturday (Oct 22) to ensure they will finish second in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season, but the common feeling is that a season that had promised so much for the Stags is grinding to an inglorious end.
It has been a tough week for Tampines.
First came the news that a significant budget cut would force the players to settle for much smaller salaries next season, or they could leave the club.
Three days later, S.League rivals Albirex Niigata clinched the league championship.
The Stags still have one more S.League game - a dead rubber against Albirex - on Wednesday, before they take on the same opponents three days later in the RHB Singapore Cup final - their last chance to win a piece of silverware this season.
Tampines coach Akbar Nawas believes that his charges need no added motivation for the final.
"I know the boys are looking forward to the Cup final," he said.
"They just want to do a job, get past the Cup final and, after that, deal with the situation once we're there.
"They'll make good."
Like they did in the 3-1 win over bottom side Garena Young Lions eight days ago, Tampines looked dispassionate against second-from-bottom team Balestier.
Billy Mehmet first threatened to score, but his volley in the 14th minute was pushed onto the post at full stretch by Tigers goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
However, left back Shakir Hamzah put the home side in front six minutes before the break, lashing home from close range after the ball fell kindly to him.
Balestier had a glorious opportunity to draw level in the 58th minute when Niko Tokic broke through the Tampines backline.
But his square ball for Fadhil Noh was a touch too far, and the latter sent his effort blazing over.
Mehmet added some gloss to the scoreline in injury time, when he latched on to a Pennant through-pass and coolly rounded Zaiful before slotting home.
Akbar was satisfied with his side's performance, saying: "Considering the situation we are in, definitely.
"What matters was that we secured second place, that's what we wanted before the game.
"Balestier sat quite deep throughout the game, so to penetrate them with that second goal was very pleasing."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic could do little but rue his side missing their one big opportunity.
"We defended well and, apart from the two goals, they did not create many others," he said.
"But, in terms of attack, we should do better.
"We had one good chance we should have scored from, but we did not.
"People say a good team can win even when they don't play well... And Tampines did that."
- TAMPINES: Izwan Mahbud, Fabian Kwok (Shahdan Sulaiman 59), Jufri Taha, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shakir Hamzah, Ismadi Mukhtar, Izzdin Shafiq, Jermaine Pennant, Jordan Webb (Irwan Shah 46), Yasir Hanapi, Billy Mehmet
- BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Emir Lotinac, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Ahmad Syahir, Hazzuwan Halim, Shah Hirul, Danial Tan Farhan (Miroslav Kristic 66), Syafiq Zainal, Niko Tokic (Zulkhair Mustaffa 78), Fadhil Noh (Syahfuddin Erka 78)