Written by: Ryan Low
Tampines Rovers bounced back from Sunday’s defeat to Albirex Niigata (S) with a clinical 3-0 victory over Hougang United at the Hougang Stadium on Thursday night.
All three goals came after the break, with Khairul Amri breaking the deadlock on 58th minute before Madhu Mohana and Jamil Ali scored late on to seal a neat win.
Tampines started the game well and could have scored on 11 minutes when captain Fahrudin Mustafic connected well with Shahdan Sulaiman’s free kick, but the header came back off the crossbar.
Hougang also went close five minutes later, with French-Italian forward Antoine Viterale’s attempt to lob Izwan Mahbud stopped by Daniel Bennett before the goal line.
The Cheetahs spurned another gilt-edged opportunity in the 27th minute as Atsushi Shirota nodding wide from Nazrul Nazari’s right-wing cross.
Philippe Aw’s side should have gone ahead 11 minutes later when Zulfahmi Arifin put Azhar Sairudin through on a goal via a clever free kick routine, but the latter fired his resulting shot against the left post.
Those missed opportunities would come back to haunt them 13 minutes into the second half, with Amri evading the attentions of marker Lionel Tan before firing a crisp grounder beyond the outstretched left palm of Khairulhin Khalid.
Hougang did create two opportunities to level matters, but Fumiya Kogure and Fabian Kwok was unable to keep their efforts on target.
Tampines would go on to show how it should be done, with Madhu nodding home Irwan Shah’s looping cross into the area on 85 minutes to double their advantage.
Hougang nearly pulled one back just two minutes later, but Izwan pulled off a stunning save to deny Prime League starlet Syukri Bashir from point-blank range.
The Stags would put the result beyond doubt deep into injury time, with substitute Jamil Ali converting Ryutaro Megumi’s cross from the right byline into an empty net.
The result meant Jurgen Rabb’s side stayed two points behind Home and closed the gap between them and leaders Albirex to four points.
Meanwhile Hougang remained in fifth with 13 points from 10 matches as they see their three-match unbeaten run come to an end.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “The goals that we conceded, especially the second one was poor and that killed our chances of a comeback. We felt that we matched them for much of the game and the result could have been different if that Syukri chance had gone in.
“You can see what’s lacking for us is a scorer like Amri. We can control the game, but we can’t finish. For me, the key difference is experience. You can see for the first goal – Lionel could have stood his ground instead of wanting to win the ball. It’s these little things that change a game.”
Tampines Rovers Head Coach Jurgen Raab: “After the Albirex defeat, I told the team it’s not a question of the performance, but more of looking at the details like how we defend set pieces. I’m happy that we showed this reaction and we go into the international break with this win.
“It’s a lucky hand for me that (substitutes) Irwan (Shah) and Jamil (Ali) made an impact. I have to say the mood in the team is very good and competition is necessary. If the players work hard in training during the week, they will surely have the chance to play.”
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Lionel Tan, Atsushi Shirota, Faiz Salleh (Ariyan Shamsuddin 83’), Fabian Kwok, Zulfahmi Arifin, Amir Zalani (Afiq Noor 46’), Azhar Sairudin (C), Fumiya Kogure, Antoine Viterale (Syukri Bashir 76’)
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Madhu Mohana, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Daniel Bennett (Irwan Shah 83’), Jufri Taha, Son Yong Chan, Shahdan Sulaiman, Fazli Ayob, Ryutaro Megumi, Yasir Hanapi (Jamil Ali 90’), Khairul Amri (Diego Silvas 88’)