Hara gaffe helps Tampines stay eight clear

A horrendous error by Hiroaki Hara handed Tampines Rovers an 88th-minute equaliser and helped them claim a 3-3 draw against Albirex Niigata (S) on Wednesday.

Duric looking for an option in the box!
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Clementi Stadium

The Stags appeared to have been cruising at the Clementi Stadium after goals from Aleksandar Duric and Fahrudin Mustafic gave them a comfortable lead by the 23rd minute, but the visitors hit back through strikes from Kento Nagasaki and Kazuki Sakamoto to level the scores at the break.

Albirex then took the lead in the 75th minute when Shingo Suzuki netted with a clinical finish but two minutes from time, Hara inexplicably dropped a routine catch to allow Duric to net the equaliser and earn his side a share of the spoils.

The result was enough to keep the Stags eight points clear at the top of the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League table but they were certainly made to work to retain their lead as Albirex discovered their best football in several weeks.

And Tampines could easily have falled behind in the 14th minute when goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin flapped at a corner and allowed Yuki Ichikawa to send a header towards the unguarded net, but Ruzaini Zainal was perfectly placed to head off the line.

Just four minutes later, the hosts made the most of that reprieve by taking the lead after Duric met Anaz Hadee's searching cross at the back post. Although his initial header was clawed away by Hara, the rebound fell kindly back into his path and the 43-year-old made no mistake in slotting home.

Seven minutes before the half-hour mark, it looked as though they were on track to claiming a routine win after doubling their tally; Vitor Ladeiras swinging in a corner that was nodded by Mustafic into the back of the net.

But having done well to put themselves in a commanding position, the defending champions were then guilty of taking their foot off the pedal and allowed Albirex to pull one back in the 31st minute when Sakamoto did well to fend off Seiji Kaneko and dribble past Ruzaini, before laying the ball into the box for Nagasaki to sweep home from 15 yards out.

The White Swans then came close to pulling level five minutes later when they were awarded a freekick 25 yards out; Suzuki stepping up and curling a powerful effort just wide of the bottom corner.

But just before the break, Suzuki played a key role as the visitors duly made it 2-2 after racing down the left and floating a perfect cross into the box, where Sakamoto proceeded to meet it with a firm header into the bottom corner.

Having seen a two-goal lead vanish before their very eyes, Tampines came out for the second half showing plenty of initiative to regain control of the game and halftime substitute Khairul Amri was looking extremely lively.

Four minutes before the hour mark, he intelligently poked a high ball into the path of the onrushing Duric, only for the usually-clinical veteran to drill his shot wide with only Hara to beat.

The Stags then carved out another excellent opening in the 63rd minute when Mustafic played a visionary pass out to the left to find Ruzaini, who burst into the area before firing his shot narrowly over.

Three minutes later, Albirex nearly netted with their first real chance of the second 45 when Masatake Sato whipped in a cross from the left that picked out Bruno, who looked certain to score from four yards after sneaking in behind the opposition backline, only to be denied by Ridhuan with a fine point-blank range save.

Nonetheless, a monumental comeback looked to have been completed in the 75th minute when the visitors took the lead for the first time in the match after Suzuki broke free inside the area after a neat one-two with Sakamoto, and proceeded to coolly place his shot into the top corner.

But there was still time for Tampines to find an equaliser of their own and as the game entered its final five minutes, Amri created two good chances for himself but was denied from close range on both occasions by Hara.

Just as it looked as though the Albirex custodian was set to play a key role in helping his side to victory, disaster struck two minutes from time as he inexplicably tipped Firdaus Kasman's right-wing into the path of Duric under no pressure whatsoever, leaving the ex-Singapore international with an open goal to tap into for the equaliser.

Tampines Rovers: Ridhuan Barudin, Anaz Hadee (Jufri Taha 68'), Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Ruzaini Zainal, Fahrudin Mustafic (Imran Sahib 75'), Firdaus Kasman, Shahdan Sulaiman, Jamil Ali (Khairul Amri 46'), Vitor Ladeiras, Aleksandar Duric.

Albirex Niigata (S): Hiroaki Hara, Tatsuya Sase, Yuki Ichikawa, Kento Fukuda, Itsuki Yamada, Takeshi Nagasawa, Masatake Sato, Kento Nagasaki, Bruno Castanheira, Shingo Suzuki, Kazuki Sakamoto.

Image courtesy of Tampines Rovers FC (BP Chua)

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