By Ryan Low
Despite missing three key players through suspension, Tampines Rovers managed to edge Hougang United 2-1 in the 2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
Goals in each half from strike duo Ivan Dzoni and Khairul Amri did the trick for the Stags, rendering Fumiya Kogure’s late penalty for Hougang immaterial.
Tampines were missing the trio of Madhu Mohana, Ismadi Mukhtar and Yasir Hanapi, but still managed to dominate most of the proceedings.
The game was turned on its head just before the half-hour mark when Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud somehow managed to claw away an Atsushi Shirota goal-bound header.
From the resulting breakaway, Amri was brought down in the box by Hougang centre-back Zulfahmi Arifin – with Dzoni making no mistake from the spot thereafter.
Hougang tried to come back into the game, but were unable to find the cutting edge with Spanish forward Pablo Rodriguez cutting a frustrated figure upfront.
Tampines would eventually go two goals up in the 61st minute, with Hougang unable to clear their lines from Hafiz Rahim’s out-swinging corner.
Amri’s initial header was parried by Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin, but got a second bite of the cherry from Mustafic’s follow-up and nodded home from two yards out.
Hougang coach Philippe Aw then rang the changes, bringing on young guns like Iqbal Hussain and Amir Zailani to add impetus in the attacking third.
The Cheetahs dominated the final 15 minutes of the game and finally managed to pull one back a minute into injury time, with 2015 S.League Player of the Year Kogure slotting home from 12 yards out after Iqbal was brought down by Tampines substitute Syed Haziq.
They could even have netted a late equaliser, but wide man Nazrul Nazari failed to keep his long-range volley down as the Stags collected all three points on the night.
Tampines Rovers head coach Juergen Raab: “We had four players and one goalkeeper on the bench, it’s a strange situation after the last game, so it’s a big compliment to the team on what they’ve done with this line-up. Jufri (Taha) and Imran (Sahib) had not played for a long time; this is Amri’s first start and he delivered over 80 minutes.
“That’s good because we want competition for places in our squad. We had one really lucky moment with the Izwan save in the first half and that changed our luck. Our players showed good morale and commitment, so it’s a totally deserved win.”
Hougang United head coach Philippe Aw: “It’s disappointing not to go home with at least one point. Tampines were missing players, but still managed to put out a quality team with four experienced players. In the first half, we gave them too much time and space.
“In the second half, I told them they have to push higher. I knew they were tired in the last 15 minutes, so we put on young boys which showed so much energy. We showed that we could match them and fought till the end.”
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Son Yong Chan, Ryutaro Megumi, Imran Sahib (Jamil Ali 74’), Daniel Bennett, Khairul Amri (Syed Haziq 83’), Ivan Dzoni (Aide Shazwandi 86’), Hafiz Rahim, Irwan Shah
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Atsushi Shirota, M. Anumanthan, Fareez Farhan (Lionel Tan 62’), Azhar Sairudin (C), Pablo Rodriguez Aracil (Amir Zailani 75’), Fumiya Kogure, Nazrul Nazari, Syahiran Miswan, Afiq Noor (Iqbal Hussain 68’), Zulfahmi Arifin