Tampines Edge Gutsy Balestier
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Tampines Rovers made it three wins on the bounce in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League after edging Balestier Khalsa 1-0 at Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday night.
Fazrul Nawaz’s second half strike proved to be the difference as the Stags closed the gap at the top to nine points, albeit with a game in hand over leaders Albirex Niigata (S).
Coming into this game on the back of a 4-0 victory over Garena Young Lions, Tampines made just one change as Ismadi Mukhtar came in for Shannon Stephen at right wing-back.
Balestier meanwhile, were without suspended duo Huzaifah Aziz and Ahmad Syahir with Ashrul Syafeeq and Fadli Kamis replacing them in the starting line-up.
The first real chance of the game went to the visitors on 17 minutes as Shahdan Sulaiman’s freekick on the edge of the box was pushed over the bar by Zaiful Nizam.
At the other end two minutes later, Aung Kyaw Naing then could have fired the Tigers ahead but the Myamarese was denied by Izwan Mahbud and Madhu Mohana twice in quick succession.
The next noteworthy opportunity would come in the 41st minute as Shahdan smashed one wide from outside the box after Irwan Shah’s cross was cleared into his path.
Tampines would come agonisingly close to taking the lead on the stroke of half time however, as Madhu headed Shahdan’s corner delivery against Zaiful’s left-hand post.
After the restart, Ryutaro Megumi and Ismadi had goalscoring chances which were unable to trouble Zaiful although the deadlock was finally broken on 53 minutes.
Hafiz Sujad raced down the left and crossed for Megumi who then headed the ball into the path of Fazrul who made no mistake from six yards for only his second goal of the season.
Ivan Dzoni could have doubled the lead for the visitors shortly after but his header was tame and Zaiful was able to collect comfortably.
Balestier head coach Marko Kraljevic reacted by bringing on Hanafi Akbar just after the hour mark, in a move that nearly paid off.
The 22-year-old was however denied by Izwan who parried his fierce shot from inside the box in the 74th minute.
Balestier had a couple of half chances towards the end but were unable to find a way past a stout Tampines defence as they slumped to their 13th defeat of the season.
Balestier remained in seventh with 10 points from 19 games while second-placed Tampines have 40 points from 18 matches.
Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “I was happy with the performance of the boys, just that the result didn’t go our way.
“The boys worked very hard from the first whistle to the last, trying to get something. We were a little lucky in the first half but we failed to stop that cross from coming in and we conceded that goal which decided the result of the game.
“I can see that the boys are working hard but we are still missing that quality in the team to convert the chances and put in key passes in the final third.”
Tampines Rovers Head Coach Jurgen Raab: “I knew it was going to be difficult coming here to Toa Payoh to face a side like Balestier and on a pitch like this so I was happy we scored one goal and won the game.
“We struggled a bit at the start but the boys worked hard and showed improvement after that. We were able to hold the ball and create some chances.
“With six matches left in the league, we will try to secure second place which is our target at the moment.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Tajeli Selamat, Ashrul Syafeeq, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fadli Kamis, Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit (Zulkhair Mustaffa 79’), Raihan Rahman, Kyaw Zayar Win (Shah Hirul 68’), Aung Kyaw Naing, Hazzuwan Halim, Jonathan Tan (Hanafi Akbar 61’)
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Madhu Mohana, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Daniel Bennett, Ismadi Mukhtar, Shahdan Sulaiman, Hafiz Sujad (Hafiz Rahim 90’), Irwan Shah, Ryutaro Megumi, Ivan Dzoni (Shannon Stephen 88’), Fazrul Nawaz (Fazli Ayob 68’)