Tampines edge Hougang to go six clear

Tampines Rovers established a six-point lead at the top of the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League on Thursday evening after recording a 3-2 win at Hougang United.

The Stags celebrating Yamashita's late winner!
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Hougang Stadium

After falling behind in the 24th minute through Liam Shotton's close-range strike, Tampines pulled level 15 minutes later when Shaiful Esah fired home a screamer of a freekick, before edging ahead on the stroke of halftime when Khairul Amri headed home a corner.

Five minutes after the hour mark, the Cheetahs equalised when Igor Cerina netted at the far post after a clever freekick routine, but Stags centre-back Kunihiro Yamashita popped up in the 82nd minute to score and hand his side all three points.

Heading into Thursday's game at the Hougang Stadium on the back of last Sunday's 4-1 win over Home United, Tampines started with plenty of confidence but it was their opponents who carved out the better openings.

Seven minutes in, Mamadou Diallo skipped past a couple of challenges on the edge of the area before drilling in a left-footed shot that grazed the post, before Jerome Baker could only send a header wide at the far post after an excellent cross by Nurhilmi Jasni 11 minutes later.

But six minutes before the half-hour mark, the hosts duly went ahead after Fazli Jaffar's searching left-wing delivery was nodded back by Baker into the path of Shotton, who stabbed the ball home from two yards out at the second time of asking after his initial shot had been blocked by Ridhuan Barudin.

Unhappy with what he was seeing, Tampines coach Tay Peng Kee immediately changed things up by bringing Amri on for the ineffective Ahmed Fahmie in the 32nd minute, but it was another Singapore international that equalised for them seven minutes later.

Lining up a freekick on the edge of the box after Aleksandar Duric had been dragged down by Shahir Hamzah, set-piece specialist Shaiful stepped up and unleashed a ferocious effort that sailed straight into the top corner.

And just six minutes later, it was Amri's turn to make an impact as he rose supremely in the air to meet Shahdan Sulaiman's corner with a firm header into the back of the net, sending the Stags into the break with the lead.

Despite seeing their advantage vanish before their very eyes, Hougang refused to be deterred and continued to show good initiative following halftime.

Shotton had an excellent chance to double his tally in the 58th minute when a poor clearance header by Yamashita handed him the ball 15 yards out, but he could only blast over despite having plenty of time and space.

As the Cheetahs' joint-top scorer in the league this season, one would have thought the Englishman would be the best chance of an equaliser.

Yet when Hougang did eventually pull level in the 65th minute, it was through the unlikeliest of sources as Azhar Sairudin, instead of going for goal from a freekick, opted to clip the ball to the far post, where Cerina raced in unmarked and somehow managed to steer his left-footed into the bottom corner from an acute angle.

Three minutes later, the Croat made an equally vital contribution when his last-ditch interception denied Vitor Ladeiras a clear-cut chance, after Duric had raced onto Fahrudin Mustafic's incisive pass and looked  to square the ball to his unmarked team-mate.

Duric then looked destined to score in the 70th minute when he was picked out inside the box by Jamil Ali's low cross, but from four yards out he could only watch on in disbelief as Fadhil Salim blocked his shot with a great recovery save.

Nonetheless, there was little the Hougang keeper could do eight minutes from time when Amri exchanged a couple of neat passes with Duric before playing in a cross for Yamashita, who stretched out and managed to get just enough on the ball to steer it into the back of the net.

Tampines could have killed off the contest three minutes after when Amri latched onto a clearance by Duric and thread a pass through to Diogo Caramelo, but Fadhil was once again equal to the task and kept out the Portuguese's firm drive.

And in injury-time, the visitors had one final chance to force the draw when Fazli's corner was missed by Ridhuan and fell at Baker's feet, but although the Canadian did well to get his shot away promptly, he was denied by a good block from Jufri Taha as the Stags held on for a vital three points.

Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Lau Meng Meng, Shahir Hamzah, Igor Cerina, Fazly Hasan, Nurhilmi Jasni (Fairoz Hasan 46'), Azhar Sairudin (Hasree Zais 87'), Mamadou Diallo, Fazli Jaffar, Liam Shotton, Jerome Baker.

Tampines Rovers: Ridhuan Barudin, Jufri Taha, Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Shaiful Esah, Fahrudin Mustafic, Vitor Ladeiras (Firdaus Kasman 78'), Shahdan Sulaiman, Ahmed Fahmie (Khairul Amri 32'), Jamil Ali (Diogo Caramelo 78'), Aleksandar Duric.

Attendance: 679

Image courtesy of Tampines Rovers FC (BP Chua)

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