Tampines Rovers 3 (Sead Hadzibulic 3’, 69’, Jamil Ali 33’)
Balestier Khalsa 1 (Ruhaizad Ismail 24’)
Tampines Rovers kept themselves within touching distance of league leaders Brunei DPMM with a convincing 3-1 win over the visiting Balestier Khalsa at the Clementi Stadium last night. With the Bruneians falling to their first home defeat to SAFFC on a fixture played on the same day, it meant that Tampines are now joint top on 29 points.
The Stags got off to a flying start when they opened the scoring after just three minutes on the clock. After skipper Aleksandar Duric’s cheeky flick had sent Jamil Ali free down the right flank, the resulting cross was brought down by new signing Sead Hadzibulic as he got in front of his marker into the penalty area before slamming the ball into the bottom corner, his first for the club since joining in mid-season.
Balestier winger Zulkiffli Hasssim then came close to levelling the score for his side four minutes later but was denied by some alert goalkeeping from Sasa Dreven, who had rushed off his line to prevent the former from getting past him.
By then, Duric and Hadzibulic had shown great understanding as Hadzibulic set Duric up with a slide rule pass in the 15th minute only to see Duric’s left-footed effort miss the target by mere inches.
The Singapore international could have doubled his side’s lead a minute later but the alert Zakariah Nerani pulled off a brilliant save from the forward’s close range header.
The Tigers would eventually get their equaliser in the 24th minute, much against the run of play. Zulkiffli was the creator, setting up Ruhaizad Ismail and the Balestier number 7 finished with aplomb although Dreven should have done better after allowing the ball to squirm under his body before it crossed the line.
But Jamil Ali restored parity for the home side in the 33rd minute with the simplest of tap-ins. After Benoit Croissant’s header from Gligor Gligorov’s corner was hacked off the line by Jaslee Hatta, the 29-year-old was the quickest to the rebound and poked the ball home from close range as Tampines took a slender one goal lead into the break.
In the first piece of action in the second half, Park Kang Jin sent Ruhaizad free down the left on 53 minutes but the latter’s dangerous cross-shot was cleared to safety by Anaz Hadee with no red shirt inside the penalty area to capitalise on it.
Sead Hadzibulic put the result beyond doubt for Tampines when he grabbed his second of the night in the 69th minute. Jinking past two Balestier players on the right, Ahmad Latiff swung an accurate cross into the penalty area and Hadzibulic met it with a firm header past Zakariah Nerani for Tampines' third goal.
Aleksandar Duric then almost made it 4-1 in the 81st minute but Zakariah was equal to the shot, diving at full-stretch to keep it out. Time eventually ran out for the Tigers as Tampines collected maximum points from the same side that had inflicted on them a narrow 0-1 defeat earlier in the season.
Gracious in defeat
Speaking to members of the media after his team’s loss, Balestier head coach Darren Stewart admitted that his side were ‘poor’ and that he would take full responsibility for the result.
He felt that his side did not deserve anything from the game and were rather lucky not to have lost by more.
“Poor. I have to look into why we looked flat (today) and I would not blame the lads at all because they have been tremendous all year. Well, we were beaten by a far better football team.”
“But we have to be gracious in defeat. We didn’t deserve anything out of the game. We were lucky that it was only three (conceded).”
There was however, one positive for the Australian despite the defeat and that was the overall performance of debutant Zdravko Dragicevic.
“(The performance of Dragicevic) was probably the only positive for me today. I was impressed with his movement and running and he will be a really good asset for us.”
Tampines coach Steven Tan was on the other hand understandably pleased with his team’s effort and decided to focus on their next game against Albirex Niigata in the RHB Singapore Cup.
“We will now focus and channel our energy on the cup with Albirex coming up. After that, we have Tanjong Pagar, Woodlands and Young Lions coming up in the league and we need to pick up maximum points (from these games) to stay in the hunt for the title.”
“With the AFC Cup out of the way, there’s no travelling or whatsoever so I’m sure my players will be fresh and can therefore channel our energy into the league and the Singapore Cup,” the former Singapore international added.
Tan was especially delighted with the impact Sead Hadzibulic has made so far after two starts.
“He can get the goals and because we cannot always rely on Aleks(andar) Duric (for goals) all the time, that’s definitely a good thing for us.”
Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven (GK); Anaz Hadee, Fahrudin Mustafic, Benoit Croissant; Ismadi Mukhtar (Jufri Taha 88’), Ahmad Latiff, Imran Sahib, Jamil Ali (Sazali Salleh 77’); Sead Hadzibulic, Aleksandar Duric (C), Gligor Gligorov (Ahmed Fahmie 45’)
Unused subs: Ali Hudzaifi, Hafez Mawasi (GK), Hairulnazri Hanafi, Syafiq Siraj
Balestier Khalsa: Zakariah Nerani (GK); Hamqaamal Shah, Paul Cunningham (C), Goran Subara, Jaslee Hatta (Yusiskandar Yusop 52’); Ruhaizad Ismail (Poh Yi Feng 72’), Tengku Mushadad, Shafuan Sutohmoh (Patrick Paran 78’), Park Kang Jin; Zdravko Dragicevic, Zulkiffli Hassim
Unused subs: Anantha Rajan, Andrew Tan, Joey Sim (GK), Muhaymin Salim
Yellow card(s): Sazali Salleh (Tampines); Park Kang Jin, Zulkiffli Hassim (Balestier)
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