TNP League Cup: 'Weakened' Tampines beat Hougang 6-4
Weakened Stags struggle early but Shahdan sets them on path to victory
TAMPINES ROVERS 6
(Shahdan Sulaiman 27, Fabian Kwok 32, Jordan Webb 35, Sufian Anuar 44, Billy Mehmet 75, Saifullah Akbar 84)
HOUGANG UNITED 4
(Fumiya Kogure 58, Jozef Kaplan 67, 86, Stipe Plazibat 90)
With seven players away on at a national team training camp, the coach issued a call to action, urging the players he had left to step up just before their first match in The New Paper League Cup last night.
And Akbar Nawas' depleted Tampines Rovers side did that and more at the Jurong West Stadium when they took on Hougang United in their Group A clash, overcoming the Cheetahs 6-4 in a goal fest on opening night of The New Paper League Cup.
Despite conceding four goals, Akbar was pleased with the performance of his team, as they eye a first League Cup title.
"I will not take away anything from the players today," he said afterwards.
"Playing with the players that we had and the Prime League players who had to come on during the game, I don't think I can ask for more.
"Definitely, it's not good to concede four goals and we can improve in our transition play, but I am still pleased with the performance of the players who came in today."
The five-time S.League champions were missing Singapore internationals Izwan Mahbud, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Yasir Hanapi and Fazrul Nawaz and it was no surprise to see the Stags struggle early.
They could have gone a goal down in the 20th minute but Hougang's Nurhilmi Jasni was unable to dispatch Fumiya Kogure's low cross.
After the early scare, it was all Tampines as the S.League title contenders scored four goals in the space of 17 minutes. Shahdan Sulaiman, making his return from injury, kicked off the goal spree in the 27th minute.
Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin made a hash of his goal-kick, sending it straight to Billy Mehmet who teed up the 27-year-old expertly.
Shahdan turned provider four minutes later when his free-kick was met by Fabian Kwok at the far post.
Jordan Webb's composed finish in the 35th minute and Sufian Anuar's successful spot kick in the 44th minute all but settled the tie.
The Cheetahes went for broke after the interval with coach K Balagumaran throwing on Stipe Plazibat and Jozef Kaplan to add much needed attacking impetus.
It worked a treat as Kogure and Kaplan scored a goal apiece in the 58th and 67th minutes respectively.
But their good work came undone in the 75th minute when Huzaifah Aziz was shown his second yellow of the night by match referee Sukhbir Singh after he brought down substitute Aide Shazwandi in the penalty box.
Mehmet converted the resulting penalty before Saifullah Akbar, making his debut for the Stags, added gloss to the score-line when he slotted home Jordan Webb's cut-back in the 84th minute.
Kaplan notched his brace in the 86th minute before Plazibat made the score-line look more respectable with his strike just before full-time.
Bala refused to pin the blame on his players, when he said: "Those who started today usually do not get to play that much and that's why they were rusty.
"That's why we conceded four goals early on but we did well to fight back and scored four goals of our own but it was not enough.
"It is disappointing to lose but we just have to look forward to our next match."
- TNP Man of the Match: Jordan Webb (Tampines)
- Tampines Rovers: Joey Sim, Ismadi Mukhtar, Noh Rahman, Jufri Taha, Irwan Shah, Fabian Kwok, Saifullah Akbar, Shahdan Sulaiman (Shafie Muliantoh 46), Jordan Webb, Sufian Anuar (Aide Shazwandi 70), Billy Mehmet.
- Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Yusiskandar Yusop, Huzaifah Aziz, Khairulnizam Jumahat (Jozef Kaplan 54), Wahyudi Wahid, Afiq Noor, Fairoz Hasan, Nur Ridho Jafri (Nurhilmi Jasni 14), Nur Na'iim Ishak (Stipe Plazibat 46), Fumiya Kogure, Iqbal Hussain.