Tampines hand Albirex advantage in title race
Tampines coach Akbar livid as players hand title-chasing Albirex huge advantage
TAMPINES ROVERS 0
BRUNEI DPMM 1
(Azwan Ali 4)
Fists clenched, Naoki Naruo shot his arms into the Jurong West sky. His Albirex Niigata players were not out on the pitch playing, but the Japanese side's coach most definitely felt like a winner last night.
Albirex stumbled on Friday, falling 2-0 to struggling Warriors FC and left the door ajar for Tampines Rovers to get back into the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title race.
But the Stags contrived to shoot themselves in the foot, falling 1-0 to Brunei DPMM at the Jurong West Stadium last night.
With just three games left this season, Tampines remain seven points adrift of leaders Albirex.
Last night's result saw DPMM leapfrog the Stags into second place on 41 points, but Steve Kean's men have played two games more.
Stags coach Akbar Nawas was livid after the game.
He said: "I'm very angry. If you're in front of goal, and you can't score, what's there to say? We got down the line many times, but there was bad decision making there and, if we can't do these little things, we have only ourselves to blame."
Tampines had much of the possession and did have opportunities to score, with the best chance coming in a goalmouth melee in the 51st minute.
Izzdin Shafiq's rocket from the top of the box was spilled by DPMM goalkeeper Wardun Yussof, but neither Sufian Anuar nor Hafiz Abu Sujad could capitalise on the chance.
But the damage was already done by then. Tampines presented DPMM with a goal after just four minutes.
Jufri Taha gave the ball away in the defensive third, with Rafael Ramazotti taking advantage to square the ball for an unmarked Azwan Ali to score.
Naturally, Akbar was unimpressed.
"The players must know that they can't be complacent. You can't think that if you make one mistake, you can get away with it. Even from the first minute, you must stay focused," he said.
"It's just not acceptable to pass the ball down the middle (in the defensive third) and it's also not acceptable to not finish chances (in front of goal).
"We kicked ourselves."
DPMM, the outgoing champions, are not surrendering their chase for second spot in the league, and Kean was pleased with their commitment.
"I said that (we're still fighting for second place) two weeks ago, and everybody laughed. Why not? We've got only one game left, and the way we're playing, I'm sure Balestier Khalsa wouldn't want to play us," he said, of his team's final opponents in the league.
"What's pleasing was not just how the defenders did, but we defended from up front, with players like Rafael Ramazotti, Azwan Ali and Paulo Sergio putting in a good shift. We clearly showed desire to not give up our unbeaten run."
After last night's win, DPMM are unbeaten in nine league games. Their last defeat was inflicted by Tampines in June.
Despite the body blow, Akbar refused to fly the white flag.
"I'm not disappointed with the commitment, determination and the spirit that we showed," he said.
"I'm only disappointed that we didn't get the basics right. DPMM have got their tactics, it's not wrong, we were just not smart enough - we fell into their trap.
"But, if Albirex lose their next two games, they'll have to face us in the last league match. And, as long as it's mathematically not over, we will not give up."
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Paulo Sergio (Brunei DPMM)
ALBIREX: v Hougang (Oct 14, H), v Home (Oct 20, A), v Tampines (Oct 26, Jalan Besar Stadium)
TAMPINES: v Y Lions (Oct 15, A), v Balestier (Oct 22, H), v Albirex (Oct 26)