Tampines Rovers maintained their 100% record against Hougang United for the season as the Cheetahs succumbed to a 1:0 defeat at Jurong West Stadium on Saturday evening. A tight knitted game was ultimately settled by the solitary goal at the very end of the first half.
The game had an unlikely match winner in Jamil Ali. He was handed only his fifth start of the Stags’ campaign and the first since early July. Jamil was in the game in place of top scorer Mateo Roskam, who had been suspended after receiving his fourth yellow card of the tournament in their previous game.
The win propelled Tampines Rovers to third place in the table, six points behind the league leaders DPMM but with a game in hand. For the visitors though, the defeat was a missed opportunity to draw level with the Young Lions on point and move back into 8th place on goal difference.
The Line Ups
Salim Moin made two changes to the side, both for the full back positions. On the right, Ruzaini Zainal was given his first start of the season after four previous substitute appearances. On the left, Faiz Salleh was given his first start since he was injured in a game against Home United in mid-May. He had previously came off the bench in the 2:2 draw with the Young Lions at the start of the month.
Delwinder Singh partnered Kunihiro Yamashita in centreback for the second game in a row. Tengku Mushahdad was absent from the line-up after suffering a sprain on his right shoulder during training.
Mateo Roskam was not the only suspended player from Tampines Rovers that needed replacement in this game. Centreback Fahrudin Mustafic was serving the second of his two games suspension from receiving a red card and in his place was Ismail Yunos. Like Jamil, Ismail was making his fifth start of the season. National team player Shaiful Esah was also in the line-up, having apparently recovered from an injury that had kept him out of the recent Asian Cup qualifier between Singapore and Cambodia.
The First Half
It was the Cheetahs that dominated the early opening period and they had a close chance after five minutes when Fazli Jaffar sent in a cross only for Diego Gama to head the ball over the crossbar.
Fast forward another ten minutes and the Stags had started taking control of the game. Their first close opportunity came in the 18th minute when Ridhuan Muhammad broke clear after receiving a pass from Jamil. Hougang United’s custodian Ridhuan Barudin came off his line to intercept his namesake’s effort. From the resulting corner, Roberto Alviz found Ismail with a cross but the latter’s header was too high.
The Cheetahs had another chance close to the 20th minute mark when Vuk Sotirovic made a quality turn to shake off his marker. His 25 yards shot though went straight to goalkeeper Rodrigo Pacheco. From that point though, it was all Tampines Rovers as they racked up chance after chance in the first half. Dangerous crosses were sent in from Rodrigo Tosi, Alviz and Ridhuan – but either the intended recipients failed to connect with the ball or their resulting shots were sent wide.
It took an uncharacteristic error from Yamashita for the Stags to break the deadlock. When the Japanese centreback attempted to head a high ball back to Ridhuan, Firdaus Idros was quick to pounce and intercept. Beating the offside trap, Firdaus then laid the ball past an onrushing Ridhuan’s reach for Jamil to tap into an unguarded net.
The Second Half
In the 56th minute, Nurhilmi picked out Vuk with an accurate cross but the Serbian striker’s header flew over the crossbar. Eight minutes later, Ruzaini delivered a quality cross of his own but this time, Vuk’s header was comfortably saved by Rodrigo. In between those two chances, Hougang United made a double substitution with Carlos Delgado and Fazli making way for Taufiq Ghani and Fareez Farhan.
A brilliant save from Ridhuan Barudin denied Tampines Rovers from extending their lead in the 65th minute from another cross and header combo from Alviz and Tosi.
In the final minutes of the game, Hougang United threw on Kenneth Chang in place of Ruzaini to send their top scorer Yamashita up front. The Stags responded by pulling Rodrigo back to provide additional cover in defence. It was an effective tactic as the hosts successfully denied the visitors any chance of finding a late equalizer.
Tampines Rover would have been pleased with a fourth win in five games. For the Cheetahs though, the defeat was their second in three games and they now find themselves in a four match winless run, their longest since the ten games winless streak at the start of the season.
Hougang United will next play Brunei DPMM at home on Tuesday evening in the second fixture of a tight run of four games in ten days.
Tampines Rovers: Rodrigo Pacheco, Ismadi Mukhtar, Ismail Yunos, Jufri Taha, Shaiful Esah, Naeem Rahimi, Roberto Alviz, Ridhuan Muhamad (Aqhari Abdullah 74′), Jamil Ali (Fabian Kwok 68′), Firdaus Idros (Isa Halim 61′), Rodrigo Tosi
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Ruzaini Zainal (Kenneth Chang 87′), Kunihiro Yamashita, Delwinder Singh, Faiz Salleh, Nurhilmi Jasni, Atsushi Shimono, Carlos Delgado (Taufiq Ghani 63′), Fazli Jaffar (Fareez Farhan 63′), Vuk Sotirovic, Diego Gama