Warriors FC dent S.League rivals' hopes
WARRIORS FC 2
(Agu Casmir 11, Miroslav Pejic 80)
TAMPINES ROVERS 1
(Noh Alam Shah 4)
Killing two birds with one stone.
That was what Warriors FC did last night at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, where they faced defending champions Tampines Rovers in a crucial Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash.
In what was the penultimate league game for both teams this season, the Warriors clawed out a 2-1 win to go four points clear at the top of the table, ahead of Brunei DPMM FC.
The loss meant Tampines, who occupy third place, are mathematically out of the title race.
The Warriors knocked out their big rivals for the title, while boosting their own position and, with momentum on their side, along with the added pressure now heaped upon DPMM (who have two games in hand). Alex Weaver's men may even be considered the favourites for the title by some.
Speaking after the defeat, which ended Tampines' run of three straight titles, Stags coach Rafi Ali said: "Everything has to come to an end, but what is more important is that the boys played their hearts out, not just today, but throughout the season.
"At one point, we were nine points adrift of top spot. I took over the team midway through the season, and it wasn't easy.
"I don't think any idiot would take a team in such a situation, but I'm a fighter, and my team are fighters."
The visitors looked as if they were ready to burst the Warriors' bubble when they opened the scoring in the fourth minute, when the 34-year-old Noh Alam Shah stabbed home from close range.
But, proving their mettle, the Warriors reacted swiftly and, within seven minutes were level, after former Singapore international Agu Casmir fired into the top corner.
Miroslav Pejic almost added a second for Warriors just moments later, but his shot sailed over the bar as the Stags' early pressure began to fade.
The visitors came close to taking the lead again just after the half-time break.
A goal-mouth melee saw talisman Miljan Mrdakovic flick the ball beyond Warriors custodian Hassan Sunny, but his shot only managed to clip the far post.
Ultimately, it was the Warriors who had the final say, as Pejic's exquisite 80th-minute free-kick curled into the top corner to break the hearts of the visitors.
While delighted with his team's fightback, Warriors coach Weaver blasted referee Sukhbir Singh, who was inconsistent with some of his decisions and allowed for seven minutes of injury time at the end, when the fourth referee flashed only four minutes.
While the extra minutes are at the discretion of the referee, an angry Weaver said: "I worry for the future of Singapore football in terms of refereeing. It's getting to the stage where we as professionals work hard, but I'm just wondering what the referees are up to. We won the game, but I'm furious, absolutely furious."
The Englishman, though, was quick to praise his team's performance.
"We've got a good team spirit this year and it's paying off. To have beaten Brunei DPMM, Home United and now Tampines is quite an achievement," he said.
"The ball's still in DPMM's court, with two games in hand. We've done a lot this season to get to where we are today.
"It all depends on what Balestier manage to accomplish against DPMM.
"We're in a situation where we're relying on others, and it's not a good situation to be in."