By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
Reporting from the Choa Chu Kang Stadium
The decisive goal was scored five minutes before the half-time whistle when Tampines captain Mustafic Fahrudin's headed attempt from a corner was slotted home by Khairul Amri, despite protests from some sections of the Warriors support that the two-footed striker came from an offside position.
V. Selvaraj's men attempted to get back into the game, but Marin Vidosevic's dismissal midway through the second period only served to intensify the difficulty of a task they eventually failed to complete.
Fresh from picking up what was only their first win of the season away at Geylang International last week, the Warriors had set their sights on pulling off an upset against in-form Tampines in front of their home fans.
Japanese duo Tatsuro Inui and Shimpei Sakurada got on the score-sheet at the Bedok Stadium, so the duo retained their places behind striker Mislav Karoglan. Meanwhile, Shahdan Sulaiman, scorer of the Stags' match-winner against Balestier Khalsa last Wednesday, was tasked to the get the goals once more for Nenad Bacina's team alongside the bullish Sead Hadzibulic.
The highly anticipated clash between the defending champions of the S.League and the reigning Singapore Cup winners kicked off in front of a voracious crowd at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium and Karoglan was ready to stamp his mark on the game from the get-go.
Despite finding himself one step too slow to latch onto a through pass from midfield, the striker battled Syed Fadhil for the ball, managing to get a touch on to take it toward Sasa Dreven's goal before a host of yellow shirts descended on him to prevent a shot in the first minute.
That early encounter should have been warning enough for the Tampines custodian that the Warriors were gunning for all three points, but Dreven did not appear to be up for the challenge.
The 23-year old attempted to pick up what was innocuous back-pass by Seiji Kaneko in the fourth minute before finally realizing what his actions would have resulted in, forcing him into a hurried clearance that fell into the path of Karoglan. Thankfully for Dreven, his defenders came to the rescue once more, dispossessing the Warriors striker before he could get his shot away.
Karoglan's movement in and around the penalty area was proving a handful for the Stags to deal with, but the forward demonstrated five minutes later that he did not need to be near Dreven's goal to endanger it. On the ball near the outskirts of the box, Karoglan shook off Jufri Taha and Kunihiro Yamashita to fire a shot from distance that whizzed just over the Tampines crossbar.
With the Warriors' attacking impetus keeping Bacina's men in their own half, Tampines fans were forced to wait till the 14th minute for what was their team's first clear chance of the game. A free kick attempt from Amri came in hard and fast, but it sneaked past the right post of Hyrulnizam Juma'at's goal.
Despite his nervy moments early in the game, Dreven was eager to help the Stags break the deadlock from his position at the back. Spotting Amri pull away from Warriors marking on the 24th minute, the goalkeeper hoofed a quick one upfield, placing the Singapore international in a one-on-one situation with Hyrulnizam. The former LionsXII custodian was alert to the danger though, and he came out of the six yard box swiftly to clear the ball.
However, Dreven was back to being a source of worry for his team just 10 minutes later when he was slow to react to a powerful headed attempt from the towering Vidosevic. The Warriors central defender roared in frustration as he watched the ball come fortuitously off Dreven's legs before Tampines dealt with the danger.
Selvaraj's team could have taken a one-goal advantage into the break, but then found themselves behind instead. Stags skipper Mustafic headed down a corner into the path of Amri, who left Hyrulnizam with no chance as he bundled the ball home from close range in the 40th minute.
Deflated from going behind, the Warriors started the second period in a lacklustre manner and they were nearly punished further by Tampines 11 minutes after the restart. Given time on the ball down the right, Imran Sahib centred a low cross into the box for Amri. The 28-year old should have fired first time, but chose instead to fake an attempt, wasting precious seconds and allowing the opposition to get in the way of his actual shot.
Compared to fellow Stags attackers Amri and Hadzibulic, Shahdan was having a relatively quiet game, but he made sure the Warriors defence felt his presence in the 71st minute.
A good spell of possession for Bacina's men had culminated in a through ball down the left flank from Shaiful Esah for Ismadi Mukhtar, allowing the Tampines midfielder to leave his marker in his wake, before floating a cross toward the penalty spot. Although Shahdan misjudged Ismadi's set-up, he managed to angle an awkward yet surprisingly powerful header that cannoned off the Warriors cross-bar.
One goal down with their adversaries looking in the mood for more, things got worse for Selvaraj's team six minutes later. Challenging for a 50-50 ball with Jufri near the halfway line, Vidosevic raised his studs in the direction of the Stags player and missed the ball completely, leaving the referee little choice but to show him a straight red card.
It took just eight minutes after the incident for Tampines to expose their opponents' numerical disadvantage. Under pressure from Ahmed Fahmie, Warriors midfielder Ruzaini Zainal gave up possession and allowed the Stags to begin a quick counter attack.
With fellow substitute Aleksandar Duric racing on the outside of Ruzaini, Fahmie played a through pass for the veteran striker to race onto. However, Duric took the ball just a touch wide, creating an unsatisfactory angle for him to take a shot. The 42-year old attempted to salvage the situation by cutting the ball back for his waiting team-mates, but his pass was hurriedly cleared by the Warriors defence.
With the minutes ticking away and the home crowd silenced by their team's impending fate, Karoglan could have ensured that Selvaraj's men had the last say in the game after he managed to shrug off tight marking to reach the six yard box, only for the Bosnian's right-footed shot to cannon off the cross bar from close range.
Leaving the Choa Chu Kang Stadium with three points allows Tampines to extend their winning run and remain behind league-leading Albirex Niigata (S) in the table, while foes Warriors languish fourth from the bottom after their second defeat of the season.
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma'at, Abdil Qaiyyim, Ruzaini Zainal, Marin Vidosevic, Daniel Bennett, Sufian Anuar, Tatsuro Inui, Shimpei Sakurada, Prakash Manikam (Erwan Gunawan 69'), Shi Jiayi, Mislav Karoglan.
Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven, Jufri Taha, Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Shaiful Esah, Imran Sahib, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shahdan Sulaiman (Martin Wagner 79'), Khairul Amri (Aleksandar Duric 74'), Ismadi Mukhtar (Ahmed Fahmie 84'), Sead Hadzibulic
Image courtesy of Warriors FC