In their first game for three weeks and with some key personnel missing yet again, Tampines Rovers were able to post a pleasing 3-1 win against battling Balestier Khalsa last Saturday night.
Two goals within three minutes, late in the first half and a third very early in the second put the game well beyond the reach of the struggling Tigers, who’d fought hard against the Stags in the first meeting between the two sides.
On that occasion Croatian striker, Ivan Dzoni had scored the only goal and this time, after being restored to the starting eleven, he netted the third, to ram home the last nail in the coffin.
An 82nd minute strike by Balestier’s Fadli Kami’s owed as much to a goalkeeper’s error as to the Tigers’ late resurgence in a match that had become well out if their reach by that late stage.
With Khairul Amri recovering from surgery and out for up to three weeks, Dzoni led the line this time with a supporting cast that had Fazli Ayob operating out wide on the right, ahead of Imran Sahib, himself not long back from injury.
As usual Japanese star, Ryutaro Megumi, was proving a real handful for opposition defenders, with his willingness to run at them and often right through them. After looking in control of the game without having a goal to show for it during the first half hour or more, the probing by Megumi, Fazli and co finally paid off in the 38th minute. Dzoni won the ball just inside the Balestier half and sent Megumi on his way towards the left byline. The latter’s low cross, sent over with pace and precision, sat up perfectly at the far post for Fazli to tap in and register his first goal of the current campaign.
As reward for his efforts coach Juergen Raab soon switched the versatile midfielder to a more central role to tighten things up and ensure there was to be no swift Balestier retribution.
Just four minutes later Megumi made the Tigers’ task even more difficult when he went on a long run on the left, before cutting in and sending a real grass-cutter that sizzled past the surprised Tigers’ keeper and captain, Zaiful Nizam, into the bottom right corner of the net.
Missing not only Amri, but incisive right winger Ismadi Mukhtar as well, Tampines lost another key man, national team defender, Madhu Mohana, to a head injury sustained late in the first half, requiring his substitution at half-time. On came Jufri Taha and the change maintained the control the home team had enjoyed during the first period. It took Tampines only four second-half minutes to post a third goal, with Dzoni, who’d done a lot of work off the ball in a somewhat withdrawn role up front, scoring with a crisp shot into the top right corner of the net, having been allowed space to turn twice, close to goal, with the luxury of seeing his first effort blocked, yet falling in his path again. Given a second bite at the cherry from virtually the same spot he made no mistake.
Balestier’s belated reply, an unconvincing Fadli Kami’s header off a left-sided cross from Myanmarese midfielder, Kyaw Zayar Win, found its way into the net after young keeper, Haikal Hasnol, saw the ball slip from his grasp before clearing the line.
Haikal made his S.League debut on the absence of the club’s numbers one and two, the injured duo of Izwan Mahbud and Joey Sim. Haikul, until that late mishap, didn’t let his side down and may be needed again on Thursday when the Stags meet The Warriors at Choa Chu Kang Stadium, kick-off 8.30pm.
That’s going to be an important date in the Tampines’ calendar in many ways. Not only is it vital for the Stags to get the points to solidify second-spot and avenge a 1-0 home loss earlier in the season, but it could well mark the return of some long missing Stags.
Striker Fazrul Nawaz is hoping that he can pass the fitness test ahead of a Thursday return to action after a long injury-enforced lay-off, albeit most likely off the bench.
And current international, Hafiz Sujad, who was marked as not-available on the team sheet, looks set to return after concluding his loan-spell in Thailand. Other names on the team sheet, included long absentee, utility man Shannon Stephen and the suspended Shakir Hamzah, giving coach Juergen renewed optimism ahead of the Warriors’ game.
With so many players unavailable for the Balestier game it was little wonder that the coach was all smiles post-match.
While unhappy with the late goal conceded, the coach felt that his team played well to get the points and put in a strong performance in every other respect.
Maybe there will be no sign of Amri for another week or two and possibly no fast return by Ismadi or Izwan either, but strength in depth has been the key once again and the whole squad can take pride in securing another big result at soon-to-be- vacated temporary headquarters Jurong West Stadium.