Harimau Muda 2 (Thamil Arasu 53’, Syahrul Azwari 78’)
Tampines Rovers 3 (Aleksandar Duric 65’, Ismadi Mukhtar 70’, Jamil Ali 78’)
Jamil Ali consigned Harimau Muda to their first defeat at their home ground of Yishun Stadium against defending champions Tampines Rovers.
Goals from Mustafic Fahrudin and Ismadi Mukhtar helped to set them on their way before Jamil’s winner despite the best efforts of Harimau Muda, who scored through Thamil Arasu and Syahrul Azwari.
The Young Tigers came into the game without several key players, including Wan Zack Haikal, Gary Robbat and Nazmi Faiz. In came D Saarvindran, while Affize Faisal joined him in the heart of the midfield.
The numerous changes though, did not seem to affect Harimau Muda. They dominated the first half, with both central midfielders running the show. Affize in particular, seemed to win every ball he challenged for.
The best chance of the half however, fell to Stags’ captain Aleksandar Duric in the twenty fifth minute. Pouncing on the ball after the Malaysians failed to clear a long punt into their box, the forty-two year old fired in a low left foot shot.
Goalkeeper Izham Tarmizi however, showed great reactions to deflect it with his feet.
The same could not be said about his opposite number however. A bag of nerves throughout, Sasa Dreven seemed affected by Harimau Muda’s vociferous fans. He had a number of wayward clearances, all of which was exemplified when he fumbled an Affize freekick which almost dropped into his goal.
While both sides could not score in the first, it was a totally different story in the second half.
Harimau Muda drew first blood, opening the scoring just eight minutes after the restart. From the left side of the penalty box, Thamil curled one into the bottom corner leaving Rovers shell-shocked.
Ten minutes later, Thamil had a legitimate penalty shout turned down after he was brought down inside the box. That allowed Tampines to break away down the other end and Jamil Ali won a penalty after smartly fooling Syazwan Tajudin into making a foul.
Centreback Mustafic Fahrudin then dispatched the penalty clamly, leveling things up.
Five minutes later, Ismadi gave his side the lead. Left with acres of space, Ismadi curled one right into the top corner from twenty five yards out leaving Izham with absolutely no chance of saving it.
The lead however, lasted all but just six minutes.
Thamil Arasu, goalscorer of Harimau Muda’s first, turned provider this time round. His cross from the left found Syahrul Azwari who escaped the attention of Tampines’ defenders to equalize with a thumping header right into the top corner.
Sasa Dreven could do nothing, as he was left rooted to his spot.
But like so many times before this season, Jamil Ali came to the Stags’ rescue once again two minutes later.
Playing a one two with Ahmed Fahmie on the edge of the box, Jamil then penetrated into the box. Showing some superb close control, he went past two defenders inside the box before chipping the ball exquisitely over the onrushing Izham Tarmizi into the back of the net.
That took the wind out of the sails for Harimau Muda, who could not find a way back into the game with a third goal.
While Tampines may have won, it was not without controversies.
Before Fahrudin Mustafic’s equalizer that came from the spot after Jamil Ali won the penalty, Thamil Arasu was denied what looked to be a clear foul inside the box.
Referee Leow Thiam Hoe was near to the action but waved play on to the dismay of the players and fans alike.
In the buildup to the second goal, Ismadi Mukhtar looked as though he may have handled the ball unintentionally in the process of trying to control the ball. Harimau Muda’s players did protest for handball but once again, Leow waved play on.
While those two goals might have a hint of controversies in them, there was absolutely no doubt about Jamil Ali’s wonderful solo effort for the third.
Speaking after the game, Harimau Muda head coach Ong Kim Swee conceded that his team’s inexperience played a part, especially with the more experienced players all sitting out with injuries.
“Well, you play against Tampines, you can see how many foreigners they have and they are very experienced. Look at the goals that they had, they took their chances,” said Ong.
“Two mistakes, one from penalty and one from freekick, came from the same defender. Syazwan (Tajudin) for me has to buck up. He cannot afford to do this in our important games.”
“They are experienced,” he added.
Tampines Rovers team manager Zulkarnaen Zainal felt that his charges came out to show their fans and management alike what they were truly capable of after a disappointing 3-0 defeat in Vietnam against SLNA.
“They really wanted to show character after the loss in Vietnam. They wanted to show the Tampines fans what they are capable off – winning the title.”
“We have to take one game at a time however,” added Zulkarnaen.
Tampines Rovers will next face Phomn Penh Crown of Cambodia at Clementi Stadium on 16 May in the RHB Singapore Cup, while Harimau Muda will not be participating. However, they will be replaced by their B team, which will take on Gombak United on 20 May at Jurong West Stadium.
Harimau Muda: Izham Tarmizi(GK), Shahrul Saad, Fadhli Shas, Syazwan Tajudin, Nazirul Naim, Izuan Salahuddin (Syahrul Azwari 51’), Wan Zaharulnizam (Ferris Danial 71’), D Saarvindran (Irfan Fazail 84’), Affize Faisal(C), Thamil Arasu, Ahmad Hazwan. Unused subs: Farhan Abu Bakar, Mahalli Jasuli, Syahid Zaidon, Azzizan Nordin.
Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven(GK), Ismadi Mukhtar, Fahrudin Mustafic, Ahmed Fahmie (Ali Hudzaifi 90’), Ahmad Latiff, Aleksandar Duric(C), Imran Sahib, Anaz Hadee (Jufri Taha 82’), Gligor Gligorov, Benoit Croissant, Jamil Ali (Davor Piskor 85’). Unused subs: Syaiful Iskandar, Hairulnazri Hanafi, Haziq Azman, Arif Ali.