It hasn’t been a good few days for the Tampines Rovers teams, the Under-17s in a pre-season friendly win apart, and there was no relief from the gloom when the Prime League team met Warriors FC at Jurong West Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Seeking revenge for a 2-0 defeat at Choa Chu Kang Stadium at the start of the season, the Stags looked to a reshuffled line-up to establish a measure of superiority in the first-half, which gave hope after a scoreless 45 minutes that goals would flow after the break.
One did, and it was a beauty too, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the efforts of the Warriors who’d made two important changes at half-time and made a couple more during the second-half.
The key to the outcome of the match seemed to be those half-time changes.
Tampines began the game without their American youngster, Diego Silvas, who had often acted as a catalyst for much of the forward momentum in his team’s matches and regularly had a role as leader of the attack.
Other than goalkeeper, Haikal Hasnol, there were no other registered S.League Under-23 players in the side and in this outing Faizal Raffi, Khairul Nizam, Haiqal Sulaiman, and Zulfadhmi Suzliman did most of the attacking from deep-lying positions.
That was working well, it has to be said, and the Warriors found themselves on the back-foot for much of the opening period, but the goals simply wouldn’t come.
When they made an occasional counter-attack Tampines’ opponents did look quite useful, but, for the most part, the young Stags’ defenders held them out very well.
On the flanks, especially through the efforts of right-back Ryhan Stewart, Tampines posed plenty of problems for the Warriors, who did indeed have two S.League-registered players in their starting line-up, namely Samuel Benjamin and Sharin Majid.
More significantly, they had their own American Prime League player, Diego Silvas’ cousin, Clay Silvas, held back for the second-half.
While Diego himself was being reserved for a possible call-up for S.League duty against Hougang United on Thursday night, his cousin was less likely to be needed for senior duty later on and was deployed as an attacking weapon for the final 45 minutes of this match.
With the Hougang match in mind two days later, Prime League coach, Dilwant Singh, had to restrict his capable midfielder, Zulfadhmi, a regular and strongly-contributing substitute in the S.League, to just the opening 45 minutes.
The second-half saw the Warriors looking far more formidable, with Clay Silvas and fellow half-time substitute, Syahmi Zulhaily, on for Gautam Selvamany, seen to advantage. The other unlucky man to miss out, to make way for the younger Silvas, was Samuel Benjamin, who’d put in a good shift for the Warriors in the first-half, but for whom the S.League is his main mission these days.
Sharin Majid made way for Luqman Abdul Rahman with half-an-hour remaining as Warriors’ coaching staff, led by the astute Razif Onn, turned up the heat.
Nevertheless it was Tampines who were able to snatch the lead after soaking up massive pressure from the re-jigged Warriors’ attack, who threw players forward with abandon.
Tampines won a free-kick out wide on the left, in the 76th minute, 25 yards out and clever midfielder, Khairul Nizam, stepped up to take it.
He lined up his shot with some thought and intent and the ball he dispatched simply flew into the roof of the net, taking Warriors’ keeper, Mukundan Maran, by surprise, as it sailed over his head and just under the crossbar.
That was a huge boost for the home side, but it simply wasn’t enough in the end.
Warriors piled on the pressure, introducing yet another forward, Andin Djayady, with ten minutes remaining.
After a corner on the left in the 83rd minute a Tampines’ player handled the ball in the penalty area, quite clearly, leaving young referee, Andy Tan, with a simple decision to award a spot-kick.
Clay Silvas steered the ball right down the middle of Haikal’s goal to make it 1-1.
A draw was still possible, of course, but Tampines were limited to occasional counter-attacks by that stage and had to deploy all of their resources to staving off a highly-potent Warriors attack.
A minute after the equaliser and with Tampines trying to grab back the lead by setting off on what proved an unproductive surge upfield, the Warriors countered themselves and with defenders in short supply, keeper Haikal rushed out to try and take the initiative.
Unfortunately he left himself exposed when he couldn’t take possession of the ball and despite defenders arriving late on the scene to protect his goal, the way was clear for Clay Silvas to slam home what proved to be the winning goal, from close-range.
Tampines were not finished, though, still enough left in the tank to mount some late raids and they went close a number of times with one shot narrowly clearing the Warriors’ bar as four minutes of added time began.
But on this occasion, Tampines were unable to survive that strong Warriors’ onslaught and had no other answers after a first-half they’d clearly dominated, but had nothing to show for by way of goals.
Coach Dilwant had nothing but praise for his players and was far from downbeat at the finish.
“I’m proud of the boys tonight, they showed plenty of fight and they played well to instructions. It was a good performance, even though we were eventually beaten.
The next outing for this talented Prime League side is on Monday 29th May at Hougang Stadium against Hougang United, at 8.30pm.