They needed two goals in a minute, 15 minutes from the end, to defeat a lively NFA Under-17 team 4-2 at Jurong West Stadium on Sunday night, but their first home game, six days after they’d opened their 2017 campaign with a come-from-behind 2-2 draw at Toa Payoh Stadium was a tribute to another fighting effort by the Tampines Rovers Prime League side.
After establishing a handy 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes the young Stags, who had survived some early scares when the visitors fired wide from good goalscoring positions early on, managed to lose their way in the middle stages of the match.
The Under-17s pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute after their speedy right winger, Syafiq Asaraf, had been bundled over just inside the penalty area by Stags’ left-back, Nor Hilman.
Handy midfielder, Hidayatul Firdaus, made no mistake with the penalty-kick, sending the keeper the wrong way to reduce the home side’s lead to 2-1.
Piling on plenty of pressure thereafter, the NFA side looked more than capable of fighting back and when they drew level in the 52nd it came as no surprise as only wayward finishing had denied them goals before that.
Khairul Hairie, who was later to be sent off after receiving two cautions, carved up defenders down the right with his incisive running and as he sped past Raja Rishan, he looked up, took aim and found the top left corner of the net from 15 yards.
The Under-17s twice hit the frame of the goal soon after that equaliser and were denied by a brilliant save from Tampines’ keeper, Haikal Hasnol, in the 69th, somehow keeping out a volley from close-range by Khairul, after a smart cross from probing substitute, Syahadat Masnawi, down the right.
That save proved a turning point, but while Khairul was surprisingly cautioned twice in six minutes and sent from the field, by then the Stags had forged to a surprise 4-2 lead.
With the extra man advantage Tampines held onto their two-goal lead and saw it out to the finish with a strong finish.
After their keeper’s spectacular and crucial save in the 69th, the home team got their second wind and set sail for a storming finish.
An assault on the NFA goal in the 75th saw Tampines go 3-2 up as Faizal Raffi’s effort from close range struck the left hand upright before bouncing over the line.
This came after good work from Rafiq Tajudin and Syed Haziq, with the irrepressible Diego Silvas also involved as usual. The all-round team effort brought about the goals to that point, but it was a piece of individual inspiration from Haziq that put the game to rest just a minute later.
The midfielder, who had been a surprise selection in the Tampines S.League starting eleven at the Sports Hub against Albirex Niigata (S) was everywhere in this game and when he spotted the tall Under-17 keeper, Putra Anugerah, slightly off his line he took full toll of it with a superb lob that the back-pedalling custodian could not reach as the ball sailed into the roof of the net.
The 4-2 win never looked likely during the middle stages of a game laden with chances at both ends and in which the NFA lads, despite their age disadvantage, looked quite capable of winning themselves at certain stages.
Tampines will face a far stiffer test in their next outing as they face defending champions, Home United, again at Jurong West Stadium, this time on Wednesday 22nd March, at 7.30pm.
This team shows promise, but Home United have begun the season well too, their latest effort a handy 4-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Bishan Stadium on the same night the Tampines boys were dispensing with the NFA side.