By Abhishek Mehrotra
The Republic of Macedonia national headed in from close range with injury time beckoning to get his side off to the perfect start after the summer break whereas DPMM could count themselves slightly unlucky, having seen an effort bounce off the post just before half-time.
The match began in thrilling fashion as, with less than a minute on the clock, Basiru Osman stormed past Imran Sahib and Anaz Hadee on the left before crossing for Shahrazen Said whose header failed to hit the target. The subsequent loose ball fell to Ivan Jerkovic and Sasa Dreven had to be alert to tip the midfielder's goal-bound strike from 25 yards out over.
Tampines had an even better chance to take the lead in the eighth minute, when Jamil Ali's lovely ball - played with the outside of his right foot, found Aleksandar Duric completely unmarked six yards from goal, but the striker, perhaps still rusty after the break, made a hash of his shot.
After such a frenetic start, the match settled down into a rhythm with both sides displaying some eye-catching play. Showing what Basiru had done, he could do better, Adi Said embarked on a magnificent jinking run on the left in the 17th minute, leaving three Stags in his wake before entering the area. Having done all the hard work, and with only Sasa to beat, the forward hit his shot into the hedges behind the Tampines goal.
The pattern of cut and thrust continued with Ismadi Mukhtar's final ball to Duric just a tad too heavy after the two men had exchanged a brilliant one-two on the edge of the area before a precision crossfield ball from Shahrazen forced Benoit Croissant into a last ditch clearance in the 27th minute with Helmi Zambin lurking just behind.
Having saved his side, Croissant almost brought disaster upon them six minutes later, when his misplaced headed pass to Ismadi just outside the Tampines area allowed Helmi to nip in, but the Frenchman did well to recover quickly and force the winger to shoot wide. Having flirted with danger, the home side uped the tempo, carving out some great chances but failing to take any of them.
First Duric turned Tales Dos Santos superbly inside the area, only to see his shot saved by Wardun Yussof, before teeing up Ahmad Latiff with a cushioned header, but the midfielder's 20-yard strike flew inches over. Croissant, who had been so heavily involved in the game, then intercepted a pass from Rosmin Kamis to launch a lightning counter by finding Gligorov on the right. The playmaker floated in a teasing ball that would have found Duric if not for the 6'5 Dos Santos.
Tampines were almost made to pay for not making the most of their opportunities in the final minute of injury time when Shahrazen's curling cross right in between the backline and the keeper saw Adi nip in from the other flank and head the ball past Sasa, who was caught in no-man's land. The small but raucous Burnei contingent rose as one in anticipation of a goal, only to let out groans of disappointment as it bounced back off the left post before being cleared by Mustafic.
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Perhaps disheartened by that desperate piece of luck, the visitors seemed to go off the boil after the break, allowing the Stags midfield to dictate proceedings. The home side should have gone ahead in the 59th minute when a superb dead-ball delivery from Gligorov found Sead Hadzibulic free on the far post, but the striker somehow managed to hit the keeper's leg with his free header two yards from goal. It was a narrow escape for DPMM, but perhaps deserved after their own misfortune just before the break.
Gligorov then won a free-kick of his own less than five minutes later; but Mustafic's well-struck effort fizzed over the bar. Tampines were piling on the pressure with only a last-gasp Dos Santos block preventing Imran's shot from finding the net before Gligorov's sweetly timed volley from all of 30 yards out skimmed the crossbar. The visitors themselves had failed to really test the defence in the second-half thus far, with strikes into the side netting from Rosmin and Azwan Saleh their only notable attacks.
But as the match entered the final ten minutes, Vjeran Simunic's men started to spend more and more time in the opposition half. However, the Stags' backline, helped ably by the likes of Latiff, Gligorov and Duric reduced them to shooting blanks from distance. It seemed like a tame end to what had for the most part been an open and entertaining game. Gligorov had other ideas though.
When yet another DPMM attack broke down, Stags attacked swiftly down the centre before the 25-year-old let fly with a ferocious shot that Wardun turned behind.
Or so it seemed.
Even as the visitors began to amble back to their positions thinking it was a goal-kick, Duric rushed to keep the ball in play and centered for Gligor who had by then charged back into the area. Yussof and Shahrulrizal both made desperate lunges to stop the pass, but it struck Yussof before looping over to Gligorov who headed in from less than six inches out.
There was barely any time for the shell-shocked leaders to regroup before the referee blew his whistle, to send Tampines into second spot only three points behind their opponents.
Tampines: Sasa Dreven, Fahrudin Mustafic, Anaz Hadee, Benoit Croissant, Ismadi Mukhtar, Ahmad Latiff, Imran Sahib, Jamil Ali, Gligor Gligorov, Aleksandar Duric, Sead Hadzibulic
Subs: Ahmed Fahmie for Jamil Ali (70'), Ali Hudzaifi for Sead Hadzibulic (85'), Hairulnazri Hanafi for Aleksandar Duric (90')
Goals: Gligor Gligorov (90')
Yellow Cards: Ahmad Latiff (15'), Anaz Hadee (88')
DPMM: Wardun Yussof, Sairol Sahari, Tales Dos Santos, Pg Sallehuddin Damit, Azwan Saleh, Ivan Jerkovic, Rosmin Kamis, Helmi Zambin, Basiru Osman, Shahrazen Said, Adi Said
Subs: Shahrulrizal Abd Rahman for Pg Sallehuddin Damit (66'), Awangku Fakharazzi for Adi Said (82'),
Yellow Cards: Helmi Zambin (25'), Pg Sallehuddin Damit (36')