Although beaten 2-0 in Tuesday night’s Prime League game against Geylang International at Bedok Stadium, Tampines Rovers’ players can hold their heads high, after a fighting performance with which their coach, Dilwant Singh, was thoroughly satisfied.
The Stags were by no means outclassed against one of the traditionally-strong Prime League outfits and could have taken at least a point from the closely-contested encounter, with better fortune being on their side.
After an afternoon of solid rain the notoriously unforgiving Bedok Stadium pitch was left soft and slippery, with a few patches which produced water splashes when tackles were made, though that was only occasionally seen, in what was a mostly flowing game, with neither of the neighbouring teams asserting themselves fully at any stage of an engrossing match.
Tempers frayed at times, however, both on and off the pitch, with referee, Abirami Naidu, having her work cut out to contain some player anger at times and even giving her marching orders to Geylang coach, Noor Ali, based on a Fourth Official’s report, early in the second-half, not long after the Stags had been awarded a penalty, unfortunately smashed powerfully against the Geylang crossbar by Diego Silvas.
That 53rd minute miss came after Zulfadhmi Suzliman had skipped past one lunging tackle, only to come down from another by the same player, once he’d initially wriggled free.
The scrimmage that followed may have had as much to do with Geylang’s resentment about the penalty decision, as the attempts to latch onto the ball as it came back off the crossbar, with boots flying everywhere.
The referee was surrounded by players, but at the same time both benches were weighing in and before long the match official was summoned to the touchline to investigate. After a few words with the fired-up Geylang coach, she pointed to the stands indicating for him to leave the scene.
Geylang had taken the lead in the 37th minute with a goal that Tampines’ coach, Dilwant, later lamented.
Eagles’ midfielder Ashraf Razali, burst through on the left before tucking the ball past debutant keeper, Yuen Yong Jie, who may have hesitated for a split-second before leaving his line, once he’d sensed the imminent danger.
“No, I can’t blame my keeper for that,” explained his coach post-match.
“It was a bad mistake by us in turning the ball over unnecessarily in the middle of the park that allowed the counter-attack to happen,” he said.
“In fact, the keeper did well in his first start for us and I’m very pleased to know that I have a good back-up keeper to call upon now.
That goal came against the run of play, as Tampines showed plenty of hunger prior to conceding.
“The team’s improving with every match,” he went on.
“They are learning all the time and they never stopped trying until the final whistle, even when we were two goals down.”
Tampines tried hard for a goal or two over the concluding stages, having fallen further behind in the 77th, when Noor Ariff slotted the ball home after a low cross from the left byline sat up nicely for him.
“That was another mistake we made,” Dilwant confirmed.
It looked as if the Tampines defence had denied the Geylang man operating out wide the chance to cross, but their player had a second attempt and succeeded in getting to the byline, as Stags’ players relaxed, perhaps thinking their opponents’ chance had already been snuffed out.
“Other than that, I thought the boys played well. We were unlucky a number of times with the chances we created.
At the end of the game skipper, Andi Agus, was injured following a clash of heads with an opponent, suffering concussion and sustaining a deep head wound.
A long delay ensured that six minutes of stoppage-time would be required.
Later, the coach advised that there was no point in taking any chances, as the player’s well-being must always come first.
Andi was attended to on the sidelines by the medical team, for some minutes after the incident happened and was later accompanied from the stadium by a Tampines official, for further assessment.
Apart from the missed penalty, Tampines had some good chances in the game and played plenty of quality football, a thumping header, off a Sheikh Ibrahim cross, by Noor Hilman, clearing the bar narrowly in the 31st.
Diego Silvas had threatened the Geylang defence in the 26th after a very strong run into the six-yard area, only to be denied by a frenzied defender’s clearance.
Stags’ keeper, Yuen, made a number of big saves and was kept busy throughout, never flinching under heavy pressure from the Geylang strikers.
“Apart from one fumbled cross, that he soon recovered from, he was very sound,” his coach declared.
“And furthermore, unlike Geylang, we did it without any of our (eligible) S.League players, so I’m even happier about that.”