Tampines Rovers’ Under-21 team put in a strong performance at Hougang Stadium on Monday night, only to go down to Hougang United 1-0 against one of the Prime League’s top sides, an unfortunate own goal in the 58th minute allowing Hougang United to prevail.
The Stags were on track to earn at least a point from Monday’s encounter, but it wasn’t only the own goal that conspired to spoil their chances, with injuries to key players also taking their toll.
Playmaker Zulfadhmi Suzliman had an influential role during a scoreless first-half, but only lasted 32 minutes, succumbing to a fierce tackle. Later in the game captain Andi Agus, not long back from an injury sustained at Yishun Stadium against an NFA side, also had to withdraw, two minutes before the Stags conceded the only goal of the match.
Tampines also took off Haziq, with another attacking player, Haiqal Sulaiman, taking over at the hour mark.
Haiqal helped his team mount a fightback and the game hung in the balance for the remainder of the game.
Tampines nearly cashed in after only five minutes when Faizal Raffi and Khairul Nizam tried to nudge home a cross from the left byline, which the Hougang keeper had been unable to get to initially, as the ball struck the post. Under big pressure from the two Stags, the Hougang keeper just managed to gain control.
Zulfadhmi saw his 11th minute corner headed wide in the goalmouth as Tampines took charge. Then in the 27th the same player made a big run from deep to face the keeper, who stood his ground and snuffed out the chance.
When a Hougang defender erred and passed the ball directly to Tampines’ striker, Diego Silvas, in the 37th, it looked like the Stags might take the lead, but the American youngster steered the ball inches wide of the left post.
At 0-0 after 45 minutes the game had been keenly-contested with the home side struggling to get the better of a well-drilled Tampines defence and midfield. Just when it looked like Tampines had the answers to repelling the Hougang attack, tragedy struck.
A cross from the left was sent over hopefully, but with no Hougang player in sight and Stags’ defender, Adiputra Jeferee, swung his boot strongly to clear the ball, six yards from his own goalmouth, but he failed to connect with the ball cleanly, succeeding only on slicing the missile high into his own net, to the despair of his stranded keeper, Haikal.
Soon after coming on as a substitute, Haiqal Sulaiman, got in a low shot that was destined for the bottom left corner, but the Hougang keeper, Ahmad Fadly, stretched to push the effort around the post.
Hougang might have added to their slender advantage in the 64th only for substitute, Kishon Philip, to head narrowly wide from a perfect cross.
Tampines battled away manfully and were never going to concede defeat without giving it their best shot. The final whistle, however, came too soon for a much anticipated equaliser.
The Prime League team will be in action again this Saturday, June 3, at 8.30pm at Jurong West Stadium, against NFA U-18.