By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Seiji Kaneko pushed forward to head the Stags into the lead after just seven minutes, before Jamil Ali added a second a minute later.
Kamel Ramdani did manage to pull one back for Tanjong Pagar when he successfully converted a penalty, but he wasted a glorious chance to equalise when he missed a second spot-kick two minutes from time.
And moments later, Vitor Ladeiras fired home Tampines’ third to seal the win, which – coupled with second-placed Albirex Niigata (S)’s 3-1 loss at home to Warriors FC – means they are now just one win from sealing a third straight league crown.
Entering the game with an 11-point lead over their nearest challengers, the Stags started the game looking every bit a side that sensed the finishing line was no in sight.
Three minutes in, they had their first chance when Jamil broke free inside the area and had only Aurelien Herisson to beat from an acute angle, but scooped the ball over from two yards out.
But just four minutes later, they duly broke the deadlock when Kaneko showed great determination to meet Shahdan Sulaiman’s outswinging freekick, forcing his way through a couple of players before planting a header into the back of the net.
Barely a minute later, it was 2-0 when Jamil capitalised on a lapse in concentration from the opposition and found space after exchanging a one-two with Imran Sahib, before stabbing the ball home from close range.
However, despite missing a number of key players, including suspended leading scorer Monsef Zerka, Sazali Salleh and John Wilkinson, Tanjong Pagar did still possess plenty of quality in their starting XI.
One real threat was French striker Ismael Benahmed and he was unlucky not to equalise in the 15th minute when he met Hafiz Nor’s corner with a bullet header that sailed past Andre Martins, only to see it blocked on the line by his own team-mate in K. Vikraman.
But six minutes before the half-hour mark, Vikraman did make amends when he won a penalty after it was adjudged that he had been hauled down inside the area by Shahdan, allowing Ramdani to step up and drill the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
Clearly displeased with the way the Jaguars were getting back into the game, Tampines coach Tay Peng Kee opted to introduce Ladeiras on for Ismadi Mukhtar and the Portuguese nearly made an instant impact; sending a blistering drive from the edge of the area back off the bar.
Having lost out in the possession stakes in the opening 45, Tanjong Pagar came out for the second half showing increased energy and aggression and quickly gained the ascendancy.
Four minutes after the break, Ramdani’s usually-trusty left boot let him down as he fired a 20-yard strike way wide, before Zulfadhli Emran had a good effort in the 58th minute; chesting down a half-clearance before unleashing a volley that was straight at Martins.
But just five minutes later, the Jaguars were dealt a real blow when coach Patrick Vallee was sent to the stands by Jansen Foo after angrily remonstrating with one of the referee’s decisions, but they remain undeterred in their push for an equaliser.
15 minutes from time, Hafiz’s corner fell all the way through to Benahmed but, with his back to goal, he was only able to hook the ball over from six yards.
Nonetheless, the designated visitors were handed a golden opportunity to make it 2-2 in the 86th minute when they were awarded a second penalty after Ahmad Latiff had cleverly won a penalty after making contact with Fahrudin Mustafic inside the box.
It did seem a rather harsh decision to penalise the Stags skipper but justice was perhaps served as Tanjong Pagar failed to equalise, as Ramdani’s firm effort down the same side was brilliantly tipped by Martins onto the post.
And seconds later, the contest was ended as Jamil broke free down the left and floated a cross to the far post, where Aleksandar Duric did enough to prevent Azhar Ahmad from clearing. The ball eventually fell to Ladeiras, who coolly drilled a shot on his left foot in off the post to take his side on the brink of league glory for the third season running.
Tampines Rovers: Andre Martins, Ruzaini Zainal (Shaiful Esah 80’), Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shahdan Sulaiman, Imran Sahib (Firdaus Kasman 65’), Jamil Ali, Ismadi Mukhtar (Vitor Ladeiras 34’), Aleksandar Duric.
Tanjong Pagar United: Aurelien Herisson, K. Vikraman, Ahmad Latiff, Anthony Aymard, Azhar Ahmad, Hafiz Nor, Zulfadhli Emran, Hanafi Salleh, Asraf Rashid (Hafiz Osman 77’), Kamel Ramdani, Ismael Benahmed.
Image courtesy of Tanjong Pagar United FC