Singapore Premier League • May 3, 2018

Irfan heads Tampines back to winning ways against Balestier


The young defender’s strike was the sole goal as the hosts ended the Tigers’ unbeaten run

19-year-old Irfan Najeeb scored his first SPL goal and the only goal of the match.

SINGAPORE, 2 MAY 2018 – Balestier Khalsa FC saw their four-match unbeaten run in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) come to a screeching halt with a 1-0 defeat to Tampines Rovers FC at Our Tampines Hub on Wednesday night.

After a goal-less first half, youngster Irfan Najeeb’s header after the break was enough for Tampines to leapfrog Balestier into second on goal difference and return to winning ways.

Fresh from a 2-1 win over Warriors FC on Sunday, the visitors began the match confidently with the makeshift centre-back pairing of Sufianto Salleh and Shaqi Sulaiman doing well to stifle the Tampines attackers.

The opening exchanges proved to be a cagey affair, with clear chances few and far between.

Jordan Webb cut in for a shot that flew harmlessly over the bar on 17 minutes, before Vedran Mesec fired a tame shot straight at Tampines custodian Syazwan Buhari in the 34th minute.

The hosts should have gone ahead with arguably the best chance of the half eight minutes before the break. Leaving his marker for dead down the left, Webb put in a cross that was flicked on by Shameer Aziq to Ryutaro Megumi, who volleyed over from inside the box.

The deadlock was eventually broken four minutes after the restart when Safirul Sulaiman delivered a pinpoint left-wing cross for an unmarked Irfan to nod past Zaiful Nizam at the far post for his maiden league goal.

Balestier refused to be cowed and could have levelled matters in the 55th minute, but Hazzuwan Halim poked wide at Syazwan’s near post after being released by Mesec.

Hazzuwan would come close again in the 64th minute when he latched onto a punt by Zaiful and looked odds-on to score, only to blaze over under pressure by Syazwan.

Tampines then had opportunities to seal the game thereafter as Webb thumped over from Yasir Hanapi’s corner on 71 minutes before substitute Fazrul Nawaz found the side-netting six minutes from time.

Ultimately, it was Juergen Raab’s side who hung on for all three points and they next host Home United FC on Saturday, 12 May while Balestier – who slipped a place to third – will be seeking to bounce back when they face Brunei DPMM FC at Toa Payoh a day later.

Tampines Head Coach Juergen Raab: “It was expected that this was going to be a difficult game against a team known for their good defending. Although the second half was better, we didn’t look too fresh and was slow in moving the ball. What was most important was that we got the goal required for us to win the game.

“Irfan has the skills and I’m sure he can develop but sometimes he is still prone to the easy mistakes and we have to live with that because he’s young and still learning. I’m happy he scored today after I pushed him further up into midfield and he showed he can do well there, popping up with the all-important goal as well.”

Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “I was very, very satisfied with the boys, most of them are playing in the SPL for the first time and I’m proud of what they have shown. We kept possession (of the ball) well today and didn’t allow Tampines too much space although we couldn’t find the goal we wanted.

“The turning point of the game was not exactly the injury to Keegan (Linderboom) but instead, the two misses by Hazzuwan. For the goal (we conceded), it was a quality cross from Safirul who has a good left foot and an equally good goal scored by Tampines.”

Tampines: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Irfan Najeeb, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Daniel Bennett, Shameer Aziq, Amirul Adli (Madhu Mohana 90’+2), Yasir Hanapi, Safirul Sulaiman (Zulfadhmi Suzliman 71’), Ryutaro Megumi, Jordan Webb, Khairul Amri (Fazrul Nawaz 64’).
Unused subs: Haikal Hasnol (GK), Afiq Yunos, Shah Shahiran, Faizal Raffi.

Balestier: Zaiful Nizam (GK) (C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Sufianto Salleh (Khalili Khalif 85’), Ahmad Syahir, Fariz Faizal (Akbar Shah Zainudeen 74’), Huzaifah Aziz, Vedran Mesec, Afiq Salman Tan, Hazzuwan Halim, Keegan Linderboom (Khairuddin Omar 46’).
Unused subs: Hafiz Ahmad (GK), Nurisham Jupri, Sharin Majid, Daniel Hazreel.

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