In what was by far their most immaculate performance of the season so far Tampines Rovers cruised past Eastern rivals Geylang International with four unanswered goals to delight fans at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
It was no walk in the park early on as the traditional derby was laden with rugged challenges and tight goalmouth moments.
After a lean spell that had included a home loss to Warriors FC and a heartbreaking last-gasp loss to Hanoi FC in the AFC Cup four days earlier, coach Juergen Raab was looking for a response from his players.
And they certainly gave him that.
In-form midfielders, Yasir Hanapi and Ryutaro Megumi, scored two apiece, with the Japanese newcomer providing the final passes for both of Yasir’s well-taken goals.
The defence was solid, with all the experience of playing in similar contests down the years brought with them by veterans Daniel Bennett and captain Fahrudin Mustafic.
And behind them in goal, another man grabbing his chance to shine, Joey Sim, showing commendable cool and plenty of courage as Geylang attempted to impose themselves physically on the second-choice keeper, who was taking over from the injured Singapore international, Izwan Mahbud, who had been in superb form himself all season.
“I told Joey, ‘this is your chance to show me you can compete for the number one position’,” said his coach after the game.
“He was superb today and so was the whole team.”
“I didn’t expect such a big win; it’s a great result for us and will do our confidence a lot of good.”
It took some 35 minutes for Tampines to break down a resolute Geylang defence, having gone close themselves less than five minutes from the start with left wing-back, Shakhir Hamzah, seeing his effort blocked on the line by Al-Qaasimy Rahman.
Tampines certainly looked like they meant business and Megumi was posing plenty of problems for Geylang, even before the Stags hit the front in the 35th minute.
His 32nd minute follow-up to Shahdan Sulaiman’s free-kick that almost brought the Geylang keeper undone, was saved point-blank by the Eagles’ shot-stopper, Muhammad Nur Amin.
Three minutes later, however, the Tampines’ tide could not be turned back as Megumi made a strong run down the right and cut inside before unleashing a powerful, low shot that the keeper could not get down to quickly enough as the ball found its way into the bottom corner of the net.
At the other end Joey Sim was kept busy as Shahfiq Ghani, Victor Coto and Safirul Sulaiman threw themselves into the fray.
The reliable deputy keeper patted down one thunderous volley after another as he calmly guarded his goal on a day when his contribution was to prove vital. His many saves and total commitment inspired the Stags to go on with the job and make the second-half their own.
Saves in the 40th and 42nd were key to the recently unfortunate Stags going in leading 1-0 at the break.
There was no stopping them in the second half, once they’d repelled Geylang’s fiery approach after the resumption, for at least 15 minutes.
On a fast break in the 61st Megumi dashed away down the right and after receiving the ball from Yasir, drew no fewer than four defenders, concerned with the threat he was posing. With Yasir left virtually unattended, when the return pass was squared to the Singapore international he was able to beat the Geylang keeper with a lovely low finish from 15 yards, continuing Yasir’s rich vein of form of late.
After that Geylang began to lose their way completely and Tampines went for the jugular.
Another fast break, as the Eagles began to introduce their substitutes in an attempt to chase the game, saw Tampines go 3-0 up.
That same pair — Megumi and Yasir — sped away and found added support from behind that allowed them the luxury of confronting the Geylang defenders four-on-two, rather than their initial two-on-two advantage.
This time Megumi was able to supply an even easier pass for Yasir to go on and curl a sweet left-footer just inside the Geylang left-hand upright.
Tampines weren’t finished yet as Geylang were by then in total disarray.
Tampines’ Prime League player, the useful Faizal Raffi, who replaced the ever-industrious Yasir in the 90th minute, won a tackle 30 yards out and supplied a nice pass for Megumi to make it 4-0 two minutes into stoppage-time.
Shahdan Sulaiman was being treated for a hand injury after the game, while another to sustain an injury was midfielder, Fazli Ayob, who was stretchered-off after 66 minutes.
They join a long injury list after a heavy programme that has left the squad down to bare bones.
Coach Juergen appreciated his team’s efforts so much he promised they could now have two and a half days off. The extra half-day demonstrates that they’ll still need to stay focussed ahead of some more important matches including a return AFC Cup date in Selangor against Felda FC.
For the moment, though, they have time to fully savour this resounding victory, one of their most comprehensive derby wins in a long time.