Tampines Rovers regain top spot with comeback win over Albirex
A magnificent second-half turnaround - which included three goals in 14 minutes - helped Tampines Rovers beat Albirex Niigata 4-1 last night and displace the Japanese side at the top of the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
With each team having just two games left this season, the title race now looks likely to go down to the wire on Saturday. Tampines are on 27 points, with Albirex a point behind.
Third-placed Lion City Sailors, who beat the Young Lions 4-0 yesterday at Jurong West Stadium, are four points behind Tampines.
The task for Tampines is clear: Win their two remaining games and they will claim their sixth league title and first since 2013. They host the Sailors on Wednesday and end the season against Geylang International.
Said coach Gavin Lee: "The most important thing for us now is to recover and try to be as fresh as possible for the next game.
"Neither team is going to be at 100 per cent, but we'll just reiterate what we want to do, and stay calm."
Keeping calm, he added, was the key to last night's comeback after Albirex led at Jurong East Stadium through Tomoyuki Doi in the 38th minute.
Lee threw on wing-backs Madhu Mohana and Irwan Shah at half-time, and the move paid instant dividends.
Just three minutes after the restart, Madhu was perfectly placed to set up Boris Kopitovic to equalise from close range.
Eight minutes later, Amirul Adli put Tampines in front when poor defending at a corner by the White Swans saw the ball break to him at the far post.
The Stags then extended their lead in the 62nd minute when Madhu seized on a slip by Hiroyoshi Kamata and played Kopitovic in again, with the Montenegrin striker finishing with aplomb on his second try.
Tampines substitute Taufik Suparno then added gloss to the scoreline in the 88th minute, latching onto a stray pass by Yasuhiro Hanada and firing home the fourth.
Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi pointed to the Stags' experience as being the difference.
"In the second half, my players were overwhelmed by the opponent and lost possession easily," he said, adding that they have not given up.
On paper, Albirex have an easier run-in than Tampines. They face bottom side Tanjong Pagar United, who are still winless, before visiting an Hougang United side devoid of foreign players.
But if Lee can gee his players up to perform like they did in the second half last night, then they stand a good chance of ending their seven-year wait for the league title.
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULT:
- Young Lions 0 Lion City Sailors 4