Tampines' title hopes dented after losing seven-goal thriller
Sundram's men hand title initiative back to DPMM after goalkeeper Pacheco fluffs his lines
BALESTIER KHALSA 4
(Zulkiffli Hassim 8, Igor Cerina 19, Miroslav Kristic 73, 90+4-pen)
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Rodrigo Tosi 40, 90+5-pen, Mateo Roskam 81)
There appears to be a game of musical chairs in the race for this year's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title.
Two days after league leaders Brunei DPMM suffered a shock defeat by bottom team Geylang International to hand the initiative to title rivals Tampines Rovers, the Stags returned it straight back after losing 4-3 to Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium last night.
After last night's seven-goal thriller, Balestier and Albirex Niigata - two sides whose chances at S.League glory looked slim two weeks ago - are back in the hunt.
Albirex beat Home United 2-1 last night at the Yishun Stadium.
There was no hiding V Sundramoorthy's disappointment, even as the Tampines coach hoped for DPMM to falter again when they play Warriors FC tonight at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
"This is football," he said, after last night's match.
"Tomorrow, maybe Warriors might beat DPMM and we get it (the initiative) back. We will just have to try again."
Buoyed by the DPMM defeat, Tampines went into the Balestier match in confident mood, but they didn't count on their Brazilian goalkeeper Rodrigo Pacheco having a nightmare outing.
Balestier were 2-0 up within 20 minutes.
First, Pacheco could only parry an innocuous-looking shot into the path of Zulkiffli Hassim, and the Balestier winger gobbled up the opportunity to put his side ahead.
Then, the shot-stopper lost his bearings at a free-kick, allowing Tigers defender Igor Cerina to hammer the ball into an empty net.
Rodrigo Tosi pulled a goal back for Tampines five minutes before the break, but the Pacheco horror show carried over into the second half.
In the 73rd minute, the 29-year-old custodian was left clutching thin air after he was duped by Miroslav Kristic's free-kick from well over 30 metres out.
In injury time, with Tampines pouring men forward in search of an equaliser after Mateo Roskam scored in the 81st minute, Pacheco brought down Zulkiffli in the penalty box as the winger bore down on goal in a counter-attack.
Kristic stepped up to slot the ball under Pacheco.
Tosi scored from a penalty of his own two minutes later, but it proved too little, too late for Tampines.
Sundram refused to lay the blame on his goalkeeper, who had conceded just seven goals in his previous 14 S.League matches.
"We didn't start well and we conceded soft goals," said the coach.
"And if you concede soft goals, you will be chasing all the way.
"We need to analyse our errors and move on. We have been defending well recently, so I would say this is a one-off."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic, meanwhile, is beginning to dream.
"Today, everybody performed above expectations," he said.
"It's one of our best matches of the season.
"Now, who knows? If DPMM lose to Warriors tomorrow, it would be very nice for us.
"We go to Brunei (on the last day of the season) and beat them, and we will win the title."
- Zaiful Nizam, Hanafi Salleh, Igor Cerina, Emir Lotinac, Yusiskandar Yusop (Jonathan Xu 50), Ignatius Ang (Fadhil Noh 67), Tarik Cmajcanin, Ridwan Jamil (Poh Yi Feng 72), Zulkiffli Hassim, Miroslav Kristic, Robert Pericic.
- Rodrigo Pacheco, Fabian Kwok (Indra Sahdan 87), Pedrag Pocuca, Jufri Taha, Ismail Yunos, Ismadi Mukhtar (Firdaus Idros 62), Mustafic Fahrudin, Naeem Rahimi (Jamil Ali 67), Shaiful Esah, Mateo Roskam, Rodrigo Tosi.