Tampines Rovers stayed on course to finish as runners-up in the 2016 Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Jurong West Stadium on Saturday night.
The Stags now sit in second place in the league table with 43 points, one more than third-placed Brunei DPMM and can seal the spot if they beat newly-crowned S.League champions Albirex Niigata (S) in their final game of the season next week.
It was the visitors who started the first-half strongly, registering their first attempt on goal eight minutes into the game. Fadhil Noh slipped an excellent ball to Hazzuwan Halim, but the latter failed to find the back of the net.
The early scare shook Tampines into action as Izzdin Shafiq tried to break the deadlock in the 10th minute with a 30-yard strike, but his attempt failed to trouble Tigers custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Billy Mehmet was next to try his luck three minutes later as his volley from an Ismadi Mukhtar’s cross looked destined for the back of the net, only for Zaiful to parry it onto the woodwork.
Marko Kraljevic’s charges limited the Stags to taking potshots from distance as they executed their game-plan of sitting back, soaking up the pressure and counter-attacking to perfection.
Tampines coach Akbar Nawas then issued a tactical change as half-time loomed, switching Jermaine Pennant, who began the game in the centre of midfield, to the right-flank and his decision paid off on 39 minutes.
A cross from Pennant into the box was flicked on by Jordan Webb into the path of Shakir Hamzah, who timed his run perfectly and volleyed home from an acute angle to break the deadlock for the hosts.
The Tigers came out after the interval determined to salvage a point from the match, and fashioned a couple of decent chances to score.
A penetrating run into the box by Niko Tokic on 58 minutes drew both Stags custodian Izwan Mahbud and Juri Taha towards him, creating space for Fadhil Noh in the centre of the 18-yard box. However, Fadhil sent his effort wide of the mark.
As the visitors pressed forward in search of an equaliser in stoppage time, the Stags found more space in the final third and duly punished the Tigers.
A through ball from Pennant sent Mehmet on goal and the striker sealed the win for Tampines by rounding Zaiful with his first touch and slotting the ball into an empty net.