Leaders Tampines crush Young Lions

Tampines Rovers moved eight points clear at the top of the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League on Wednesday after recording a convincing 3-0 win over Courts Young Lions.

The Tampines veteran looks to whip one in...

By Gabriel Tan at the Jalan Besar Stadium

Veteran striker Aleksandar Duric netted a brace inside the opening 15 minutes to hand the Stags a comfortable lead to sit back on, before Ahmad Latiff capped off a fine team performance in the 63rd minute when he added a third with a scorcher from the edge of the area.

The result took Tampines eight points clear of second-placed Albirex Niigata and with just four games to go after this week's round of matches, they appear clear favourites to win the title for the second year running.

Despite having seen his side toil to a 2-1 win over Geylang United last Saturday, Stags coach Tay Peng Kee opted to make just one change to his starting XI by replacing the suspended Benoit Croissant with captain Duric, with Mustafic Fahrudin dropping back to centre-back to fill the Frenchman's void.

Young Lions boss Robin Chitrakar also retained most of the lineup that fell to a 3-1 defeat to DPMM FC, with goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari, who made a real gaffe against the Bruneians last Thursday, missing out through illness.

Considering Tampines have been one of the highest-scoring sides in the league so far this season, Syazwan's replacement, Neezam Aziz, could have been forgiven for expecting a long evening in goal for the hosts.

Watch: Highlights: Courts Young Lions 0-3 Tampines... More Videos

Three minutes in, the 21-year-old was called into his first action when he unconvincingly tipped over a half-volley by Imran Sahibm after Ahmed Fahmie had flicked a left-wing cross by Jufri Taha towards the far post.

However, there was nothing he could do about Duric's opener three minutes later, with the Singapore international smashing home from close range after strike partner Sead Hadzibulic had found him with a delightful ball over the top of a static Young Lions defence.

Just nine minutes later, the Stags went further ahead after an incisive pass by Latiff fortuitously made its way into the box after being missed by Gligor Gligorov, allowing Duric to slot home his second after muscling his way past Emmeric Ong to the loose ball.

The 42-year-old then nearly turned provider in the 17th minute when he forced his way into the box and slid the ball left to Fahmie, but this time Neezam was equal to the task and bravely blocked his opponent's blistering effort.

Despite finding themselves two goals down so early on, Young Lions, to their credit, refused to give in without a fight and wasted a good chance to pull one back a minute later when Sherif El-Masri whipped in a penetrating ball towards the near post that found Jonathan Toto, whose late run had not been picked up by any of the Tampines defenders. However, the French youngster had to rush his shot from a tight angle and failed to trouble Sasa Dreven from six yards out.

With a commanding lead to hold on to, the visitors then began to sit back and welcomed their opponents to push forward, a plan which worked perfectly as they easily coasted to the break without really being threatened by the opposition forwards.

However, the hosts almost hit back four minutes into the second half when Toto wasted another good chance to open his side's account for the evening, sending a header over from a Fazli Ayob corner after doing well to outjump Dreven.

Now starting to pose a few problems to Tampines, Young Lions came forward once more in the 60th minute, with Zulfahmi Arifin playing a glorious cross-field pass to release El-Masri down the left. With a sharp burst of pace, the 22-year-old made his way into the box and looked set to pick out Toto, only to have the door slammed shut in his face by the recovering Gligorov.

Three minutes after denying the opponents a scoring chance, the Macedonian midfielder went on to make a telling contribution at the other end, although they appeared to be no real danger when he made his way down the left before sliding the ball inside to Latiff. But from 25 yards out and with a mass of players in front of him, the ex-Singapore star let fly with a brilliant drive that arrowed beyond Neezam's despairing dive and straight into the bottom corner to put the Stags 3-0 up.

With nothing to lose, Chitrakar decided to thrown caution to the wind by bringing on a trio of attackers in Faris Ramli, Nazrul Nazari and Fareez Farhan, and they nearly had the desired impact in the 81st minute. Picking up possession just inside the visitors' half, Fareez burst down the right before cutting the ball back to Faris, who screwed a shot just wide from the edge of the area.

Nonetheless, there was never any real doubt that Tampines would be the ones heading home with the maximum points, although their night was blighted four minutes from time by a groin injury to Mustafic, who is now a real doubt for next Wednesday's clash against Albirex, a game which is bound to have a huge repercussions in the title race.

Courts Young Lions: Neezam Aziz, Faritz Hameed, Emmeric Ong, Sirina Camara, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Shamil Sharif (Faris Ramli 63'), Zulfahmi Arifin, Fazli Ayob (Nazrul Nazari 65'), Benjamin Kristofferson Lee, Sherif El-Masri, Jonathan Toto (Fareez Farhan 71').

Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven, Anaz Hadee, Mustafic Fahrudin, Jufri Taha, Imran Sahib, Gligor Gligorov, Ahmad Latiff, Ismadi Mukhtar (Sazali Salleh 71'), Ahmed Fahmie (Jamil Ali 46'), Sead Hadzibulic (Noh Alam Shah 61'), Aleksandar Duric.

Attendance: 1,177

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