Beaten twice by Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League leaders and defending champions Albirex Niigata (S) and once by Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers won their seventh game of the season on Thursday night to demonstrate once again their highly positive approach to football.
Defeating an equally attack-minded Hougang United 3-0 at Hougang Stadium enabled the Stags to remain only four points behind the reigning champions and only two adrift of second-placed Home United – the most recent victims of Tampines Rovers – who beat DPMM Brunei 9-3 at neighbouring Bishan Stadium, also on Thursday night.
Thus far the Stags have avoided being held to a draw, but there have been a number of close calls and this was no exception. Only a stoppage-time winner from Khairul Amri denied Garena Young Lions a 0-0 draw, not so long ago, while Tampines clung on grimly to hold off Home United at Jalan Besar Stadium a fortnight ago, before emerging 3-2 winners.
Here they held a 1-0 advantage from Amri’s 58th minute strike, but found themselves with plenty to do to hold off a strong fightback from Hougang United, until near the very end.
It took a top save from keeper Izwan Mahbud, to preserve that slender lead and even after Madhu Mohana had made it 2-0 in the 85th minute, Hougang kept on coming and looked more than capable of snatching late goals to spoil the Stags’ party.
But again Izwan came to the rescue with another great reflex save, before stoppage-time substitute, Jamil Ali, produced his familiar party trick, a last-gasp goal off the bench, something he’s managed a number of times during his lengthy Tampines Rovers career, featuring two separate spells with the Stags. This time Jamil swept the ball into the net from one yard out, as he followed through on an angled shot from wide on the right by Ryutaro Megumi that was already on its way into the Hougang net, four minutes into the time added-on.
There were two other back stories to tell here, as well.
Madhu was returning from his absence in the previous game, due to illness, and his goal, a stooping header, was just the tonic the team needed to put the game to bed.
Irwan Shah, who had been sidelined by injury until recently, came on as a late substitute, providing, within minutes, a waist-high cross from the left that allowed Madhu to ghost in and score superbly.
Irwan had come on when key defender, Daniel Bennett, had to be helped from the field, following a bad tackle, ten minutes from the end.
Meanwhile first-choice goalkeeper Izwan, who’d missed the previous game through injury, was passed fit to start, if needed, but deputy Joey Sim had initially been earmarked to retain his spot for this game, until falling sick on the eve of the match.
Prime League starlet, Diego Silvas, was also introduced right near the end, in place of Amri, as Tampines finished the game off with a flourish.
It was a pleasing response after the loss to Albirex four nights earlier, a result, according to coach Juergen Raab, that owed as much to poor decision-making during the game, than to any lack of performance.
The S. League team will now take a break until 22nd June on which date they will travel to Choa Chu Kang Stadium looking to beat Warriors FC.
The Prime League team, however, will play on throughout June, following their next match against Hougang United on Monday, 29th May, kick-off 8.30 pm.