Tampines beat Balestier to stay in title race
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Jacob Butler 44, Shahdan Sulaiman 73, Miljan Mrdakovic 90+4)
BALESTIER KHALSA 1
(Emir Lotinac 83)
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
The last time Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa met last month, Tampines were frustrated for long spells of the game before Balestier emerged victorious in a penalty shootout.
That was the Singapore Cup semi-final.
The Tigers might have defended admirably then, but last night, it was a different story.
At the Clementi Stadium, Balestier's rearguard gave way to concerted pressure from the Stags.
Said Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic: "We were focused on the Singapore Cup final (Nov 7), but we still tried very hard to get victory.
"We were dealing well until the first goal, which came from a corner, and you can never be certain during set-pieces.
"Today just wasn't our day. Tampines were the better team throughout 90 minutes, that's why they won. We'll just focus on the Singapore Cup final now."
Balestier had been in good form recently, with victories against Warriors FC and Albirex Niigata.
Custodian Zaiful Nizam kept clean sheets in both games, carrying on from his Cup heroics between the posts.
Tampines, meanwhile, started the match in third place, four points adrift of the top of the table.
But this victory has given them a glimmer of hope in the title race. They are now one point behind leaders Warriors FC, and level on points with Brunei DPMM although they have played a game more than the Bruneian club.
In an uneventful first half filled with half chances, it took a 44th-minute header from Jacob Butler for the game to really get going.
Tampines nearly doubled their lead in the 54th minute when Ang Zhi Wei raced down the wing to square the ball to Miljan Mrdakovic, but the Serb could not get the connection he needed, and the ball trickled out for a goal kick.
Tampines' pressure finally bore fruit when Ismadi Mukhtar, fresh from his Lions debut, crossed the ball into Balestier's penalty area.
Zaiful managed to tip the ball away, but it fell into the path of Shahdan Sulaiman, who scored to make it 2-0.
But Balestier would not lie down, grabbing one back through Emir Lotinac in the 83rd minute.
Tampines eventually got the job done, with Mrdakovic making up for his earlier miss by stabbing home the winner deep into stoppage time.
Looking ahead to Thursday's top-of-table clash against Warriors, Tampines coach Rafi Ali was confident that his men would display the same commitment that they did last night.
He said: "We're definitely going to play with a lot of heart and character, just like we did tonight. Everyone can beat each other in this league, we've seen that a lot this season, so we're just going to work hard for the game and I'm sure we'll get the same result."
Justin Pasfield, Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Kunihiro Yamashita, Shaiful Esah, Shahdan Sulaiman, Miljan Mrdakovic, Jacob Butler, Noh Alam Shah (Taufik Suparno 90), Ang Zhi Wei, Jozef Kaplan (Matthey Abraham 88)
Zaiful Nizam, Emir Lotinac, Paul Cunningham, Ruhaizad Ismail (Zulkiffli Hassim 75), Ridwan Jamil (Ahmad Syahir 60), Goran Ljubojevic, Jaslee Hatta, Jonathan Xu, Kim Min Ho (Poh Yi Feng 79), Park Kang Jin, Ho Wai Loon.
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULT:
- Courts Young Lions 2 Hougang United 1