Departing Velez scores Warriors' late winner
India-bound Velez scores winner to give team perfect farewell gift
WARRIORS FC 2
(Miroslav Pejic 85, Nicolas Velez 88)
TAMPINES ROVERS 1
(Rodrigo Tosi 48)
For the first 45 minutes of last night's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash at Choa Chu Kang Stadium, it looked like a bore draw was on the cards.
Defending champions Warriors FC and Tampines Rovers, two of the league's traditional giants, both struggled to find any rhythm and failed to create any effort on goal of note.
It was the kind of game that looked like it would be decided either by a mistake or a moment of brilliance, and it was indeed the former which provided the breakthrough three minutes after half-time.
Warriors captain Daniel Bennett, finding himself in a tight situation, lost possession to Rodrigo Tosi, who had plenty to do but managed to advance on goal before drilling a low shot from a tight angle into the bottom corner to give the visitors the lead.
Tampines then had a couple of opportunities to score again but were unlucky not to edge further ahead, as Firdaus Idros' looping header and Shaiful Esah's ferocious long-range drive struck the woodwork.
The Stags were comfortably coasting to the three points until two moments of brilliance turned it around for the Warriors.
First, with five minutes left on the clock, Miroslav Pejic pounced on a loose ball after Tampines goalkeeper Rodrigo Pacheco had punched out a cross to him and smashed a stunning 30-metre effort into the bottom corner.
Just three minutes later, it was Nicolas Velez's turn to strike as he was afforded too much space outside the box and curled a sublime effort past a stranded Pacheco to complete the comeback win for the hosts.
It was a bitter pill for Tampines, given that they were the better side right until the closing stages.
The Stags now trail leaders Albirex Niigata by eight points but coach V Sundramoorthy insists their title bid is still far from over.
"It's very hard to accept this defeat as I feel we deserved a point at the very least, but that's the way football is sometimes," he lamented.
"There's still 13 more games for us to play in the league and anything is possible… the important thing is we must now pick ourselves up for the next match."
Meanwhile, the win - which Warriors coach Alex Weaver hailed as "very important" - ended the champions' three-game winless run as they moved up to second.
However, they will have to chase league leaders Albirex without Velez as he joins Indian Super League outfit NorthEast United on Aug 21.
The 25-year-old Argentinian was delighted to hand the Warriors the perfect farewell gift last night.
"I'm very happy to come off the bench and score the goal that helped the team get the win," he told the New Paper.
"I'm very grateful to the club for letting me take this next step in my career, so I was delighted to give back to my teammates, the coaches and the management."
- WARRIORS FC: Daniel Ong, Marcus Wheeler (Hazim Faiz 68), Daniel Bennett, Syaqir Sulaiman, Irwan Shah, Shi Jiayi (Thomas Beattie 81), Emmeric Ong, Karlo Ivancic, Hafiz Rahim (Nicolas Velez 71), Miroslav Pejic, Fazrul Nawaz.
- TAMPINES ROVERS: Rodrigo Pacheco, Ismadi Mukhtar (Zulfadli Zainal Abidin 82), Fahrudin Mustafic, Predrag Pocuca, Shaiful Esah, Ridhuan Muhamad (Jufri Taha 73), Isa Halim, Roberto Alviz, Firdaus Idros, Indra Sahdan Daud (Fabian Kwok 46), Rodrigo Tosi.
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Miroslav Pejic (Warriors FC)
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