News • June 19, 2016
Stags Maintain Perfect Record Under Coach Akbar
Written by: Shawn Lim
Tampines Rovers geared up for a mouthwatering top of the table clash with Albirex Niigata (S) next week after defeating Balestier Khalsa 3-2 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night, thanks to a brace by Fazrul Nawaz.
The victory allowed the Stags to cut the White Swans’ lead at the summit of the Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League to four points and continue their charge to catch up with the Japanese side.
Balestier were fortunate not to fall two goals behind inside four minutes of the game when Jufri Taha skewed a shot over from eight-yards out, before Fazrul powered a header just over the crossbar from Jufri’s cross.
Tampines did find the opener two minutes later though, when Jermaine Pennant’s corner caused mayhem in the 18-yard box after Balestier failed to clear their lines and Billy Mehmet stabbed home the loose ball.
Fazrul then missed the target with a presentable opportunity to put the Stags further ahead in the 13th minute when another corner from Pennant caused panic in the box, but the striker somehow failed to finish from close-range.
Fadli Kamis came close to helping Balestier pull level four minutes later when he rose the highest to meet Fazli Ayob’s free-kick from 30-yards out, but saw his header whizzed over the crossbar.
Another attractive chance for the Tigers to equalise arrived in the 30th minute when a great pass by Zulkiffli Hassim found a free Fazli in the 18-yard box, but the midfielder scooped the ball wide with only Stags custodian Joey Sim to beat.
The Stags doubled their lead two minutes before the interval when Irwan Shah, who had just came on to replace Pennant moments earlier, sent Fazrul through on goal with an exquisite pass and the striker slotted the ball past Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic rang the changes immediately after the break, bringing on Danial Tan Farhan and Fadhil Noh for Fazli Ayob and Syafiq Zainal respectively, and it seemed to lift the Tigers’ spirit.
Sim had to get down well in the 51st minute to push away Niko Tokic’s powerful piledriver on the edge of the area, before recovering well to turn Zulkiffli’s rebound out for a corner at his near post.
The danger from the Tigers grew with every foray into the Stags’ half and one such raid saw Tokic finding Kristic with a wonderful pass, but the latter dragged his shot narrowly wide.
Balestier finally reduced the deficit in the 64th minute when Kristic sprang the offside trap to meet Tokic’s brilliant lofted pass and slammed the ball into the top corner of the net.
Sensing that the Tigers confidence had begun to grow, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas brought on midfielder Fabian Kwok for Mehmet to break up play in the middle of the park while the Stags poured forward to search for a third goal.
Akbar’s decision paid off in the 74th minute when Webb’s low cross into the box was met at the far post by Fazrul who had made a late run into the box, and the striker blasted the ball home for his second goal of the night.
The Tigers however, refused to let their heads dropped and should have reduced the deficit again in the 85th minute when Kristic squared the ball across to Fadhil Noh after drawing Sim out, but the striker slipped as he shaped up to shoot the ball into an open goal.
In an end-to-end finish to the match, Fadli gave Balestier a glimmer of hope in stoppage time after Tokic had beaten Sim to Jamil Ali’s free-kick, leaving the defender free to bundle the ball over the line.
That turned out to be the consolation goal for the Tigers as Tampines held on for the remainder of the match for their third consecutive league win.
Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic: “We started the game very slow and conceded early, then we had to open up and attack. We handled things very nicely, but lost possession and conceded a third.
“Then we put pressure and scored again, but they counter again and score. We put a very good fight against one of the best teams in the league and we are better now than the start of the season.”
Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas: “We took the pedal off the game after leading, but playing three games in nine days takes a toll on the players. To play a certain style of football takes time. That will come with more trainings and games.”
“Balestier are a good side and it’s not easy to play them. I thought they would grab a draw in the end, so we were quite lucky to win.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK) (C), Fadli Kamis, Hanafi Salleh, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Emir Lotinac, Zulkiffli Hassim, Fazli Ayob, Syafiq Zainal, Miroslav Kristic, Niko Tokic
Tampines Rovers: Joey Sim (GK), Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Shakir Hamzah, Yasir Hanapi, Izzdin Shafiq, Hafiz Sujad, Jordan Webb, Jermaine Pennant, Billy Mehmet, Fazrul Nawaz