Singapore Premier League • May 2, 2014
White Swans Held By Tampines
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Luis Closa cancelled out Shuhei Hotta’s opener as Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S) shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw at the Clementi Stadium on Thursday evening.
Hotta put his side in front after six minutes with a header but Closa struck a well-taken effort fifteen minutes from time to ensure Rafi Ali’s reign as Tampines Rovers coach would not get off to a losing start.
Following Salim Moin’s resignation as coach of the defending Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League champions, Rafi was placed in charge as interim coach until a replacement is found.
Albirex signalled their intentions from the get-go and got their noses in front after six minutes.
A corner from the right was whipped in by Kazuya Okazaki and Hotta evaded the attentions of his marker before sending a powerful header home at the near post for the lead.
It was a game Tampines slightly edged thereafter and were unlucky not to have levelled after falling behind, with the woodwork denying them twice in the first half.
The Stags came close to scoring in the 21st minute when Closa saw his long-range drive inadvertently deflected by teammate Roberto Martinez and off the bar.
A minute before the half-time whistle, Miljan Mrdakovic then saw his effort crash off the upright once again much to the relief of the White Swans who held a slender one-goal lead going into the break.
After the restart, Tampines continued pushing for the equaliser as Mrdakovic spurned a hat-trick of chances to pull his side level.
The best chance came on the hour mark when he latched onto a Fahrudin Mustafic ball from the defence before he was thwarted by the legs of Kazuki Kishigami.
With half an hour left on the clock, veteran forward Aleksandar Duric was introduced in a bid to inject more attacking verve in the Tampines side who soon found themselves back on level terms.
A corner was cleared only as far as Closa on the edge of the box and the Paraguayan midfielder took a touch before lashing an accurate finish into Kishigami’s bottom corner to make it 1-1.
The goal only served to spur Tampines who laid siege on the Albirex goal and the Stags almost found a late winner.
Mrdakovic could have put Tampines in front for the first time in the game but saw his header somehow clawed out by Kishigami following a left-wing cross from Duric.
Noh Alam Shah then contrived to put the ball wide off fellow substitute Ang Zhi Wei’s cross despite being in front of goal in the 80th minute.
Those misses almost proved costly when Albirex’s Kazuki Sakamoto rose to meet a cross during stoppage time but he could only send his header just over the bar as the visitors hung on for a point.