Yesterday Evening at Queenstown Stadium, the Tampines Rovers Women’s team came agonisingly close to collecting their first win of the season, dropping points only over the final stages of what had proved to be a heart-stopping performance against their vastly more experienced opponents, Changi Village SRC.
Having taken their time to settle down, the very youthful newly-formed Tampines Rovers team grew in confidence and showed little fear against a team with one win under their belt already and no fewer than six players over the age of 32 in their starting line-up.
In addition, they had three more of similar vintage to provide fresh legs later in the match and it was only after they’d resorted desperately to their bench that the Tampines side’s 66th minute 1-0 lead looked in any danger of being surrendered.
Two injuries during the match took the gloss off what had been a very sound and disciplined display from the fast learners expertly coached by former S.League star, Ratna Suffian.
Five minutes before the break, striker Shahidah Sidek fell awkwardly on the notoriously uneven Queenstown pitch and struggled to limp off the field with a painful knee injury.
Fortunately her replacement, Syafiqah Mutalib, who’d been playing for a while before taking an enforced two-season break, was able to take over the role up front and it was her strength, commitment and vision that allowed Tampines to forge to a thoroughly-deserved 66th minute lead after a superb first half of tight marking and tough tackling allied to the frequent rapid counter-attack.
On one such fast break Aisah Amal had sped away from barely inside her own half to confront the Changi Village keeper, with opposition defenders lagging in her wake, but an attempt on goal was offered momentarily too soon allowing the keeper to gather the ball on her goal line.
Gathering confidence from that forward thrust, the Tampines side, sporting an ice-cool defence, looked more than a match for a side that had beaten Home United 2-0 the previous weekend.
A free-kick, won 30 yards out, allowed the powerful Syafiqah to deliver a shot that proved too strong for the Changi Village keeper, as it passed through her outstretched fingers and sailed into the roof of the net.
Some older players, introduced by the Changi Village side during the second half, made Tampines work harder to retain their slender lead, but when the visitors conceded a 78th minute free-kick, it was unfortunate that the high, lofted shot could only be pushed onto the crossbar and when it dropped, a predatory Changi Village player gleefully rifled the ball into the net.
But a draw might have even flattered a side laden with so much experience, though that was how things were shaping up until the 88th minute, when Tampines keeper, Aisha Kasmawi, was seen sprawled on the turf in her own goalmouth, from an earlier incident, while play was allowed to continue.
Even with the player out of action the opposition carried on with their attacking, as the referee had not stopped the play, but even with that advantage the opponents could only shoot wide of the upright.
With the Tampines reserve keeper called upon to take over, it was a backs-to-the wall effort that was needed to hold off their more experienced adversaries over the concluding five or so minutes left.
As play moved deep into stoppage-time, a sudden surge forward proved too much for the Tampines defence and the keeper, who were helpless to prevent Changi Village snatching an unlikely 2-1 win with effectively the last kick of the game.
But the promise shown by the Tampines side on this occasion should be enough to inspire them to break through for that first victory before much longer.
It was a huge team effort, full of heart and endeavour and a credit to the coach and his new squad.
Only positives can be taken from this heartening performance, which unfortunately ended in heartbreak, though, with their obvious fighting qualities, the women’s team are sure to put it all behind them when they meet Kaki Bukit next weekend.