Determined Tampines see off Young Lions

Tampines Rovers made it two wins out of as many games by beating Courts Young Lions 2-0 in their Great Eastern-YEO’s S.League encounter on Thursday.

Hadzibulic takes on the entire opposition defence!
Alison Chin

By Alison Chin

Nenad Bacina's men were dominant on the ball for most of the game but could find no way past a resolute Young Lions defence in the first period.

Instead, it fell to talismanic forward Aleksandar Duric to prod his team in front after coming off the bench midway through the second half, before captain Mustafic Fahrudin doubled Tampines' tally with a strike from the edge of the penalty area.

Following their Charity Shield win with a 5-0 mauling of Geylang United in the opening round of the S.League, Tampines could not have asked for a better way to come into their fixture against the Young Lions.

Sead Hadzibulic, Shaiful Esah and marquee signing Martin Wagner impressed over the last two games, so it was hardly surprising to find that Bacina kept faith with them in his starting line-up.

Khairul Amri, who came on to score his team's final goal against the Eagles, was also rewarded with a place in the first 11. However, fellow goal-scorer Jamil Ali was forced to make do with a spot on the bench in order to accommodate his compatriot.

Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar found himself on the other end of the spectrum going into the game with the defending champions, as his team lost their season opener against Alex Weaver's Hougang United.

Without the driving force that is Sherif El-Masri for that one, the Cubs were toothless in attack, but Aide was hoping that the Canadian's presence against the Stags would provide some respite to the team's striking woes this time.

However, it was last season's top scorer for Tampines, Hadzibulic, who threatened first at the Clementi Stadium. The Serbian made a nuisance of himself in the penalty area during the opening exchange and almost got on the end of a long throw from Shaiful, forcing the Young Lions to scramble the ball clear.

That early move seemed to set the tone for the match as Bacina's charges pinned the Cubs into their own half with wave upon wave of attacks.

Hadzibulic was once again at the heart of his team's next move after Aide's boys foolishly left him with a bit of time on the ball outside the penalty area. Spotting Firdaus Kasman making a run, the Serbian sent in a cross toward the far post that Young Lions custodian Rudy Kahirullah struggled to deal with first time, before another goal-mouth scuffle saw the Cubs escape.

Knowing they would have their backs against the wall in this one, Aide's team did most of their attacking on the break, with several of their attempts spearheaded by Ignatius Ang.

The 21-year old positioned himself on the outskirts of the Tampines defence and managed to outsprint his opponents on several occasions to get on the end of long balls. Ang's pace and trickery in possession forced a couple of rash challenges from Shaiful and Seiji Kaneko, but his team-mates did not make the most of the free kicks.

Over on the other end, Amri could have justified his place in the starting line-up had he finished his team's move in the 16th minute. The AFF Suzuki Cup winner brought down Firdaus' cross beautifully at Rudy's near post before faking a shot to fool Young Lions captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman, but Amri's actual attempt was deflected off Emmeric Ong.

Three minutes later, El-Masri came close to punishing Tampines after winning a free kick off Shaiful. The Canadian took the set-piece himself and goalkeeper Sasa Dreven had to dive at full-stretch to keep out the attempt as it was undoubtedly headed for the top right corner of the goal.

Despite El-Masri and Ang's efforts, the momentum remained firmly with Bacina's men. In the 24th minute, Tampines put together a classy move that hinted just what the defending champions were capable of.

After a characteristic surge from his position in defence, Shaiful played a one-two with Mustafic near the half-way line before finding Amri on the edge of the penalty area. The Rovers forward returned possession back to to his team-mate down the left of the danger area, but the full-back's cross was collected by an alert Rudy.

A minute later, it was Young Lions forward Ang who was left to ponder what could have been when he fluffed one of his team's best chances. Ghosting past Anaz Hadee after a ball was put through on the left of Dreven's six yard box, Ang fired his attempt high and wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.

Like Ang, Wagner was yet to score a goal in this campaign and everyone in the stands thought he had broken his duck two minutes before half time. In a move that began with Amri's punt to Shaiful down the left flank, the ball was curled to the far post by the Tampines full-back with Hadzibulic in mind and Rudy dashed off his line in an attempt to scramble the cross clear.

Although the eventual clearance fell to Wagner, who lashed home a first time volley into the top right hand corner of the net, the referee judged Hadzibulic to have fouled the Young Lions goalkeeper in the earlier encounter and disallowed the midfielder's attempt.

Despite numerous opportunities carved out by the Stags, the score-line remained goalless at half-time. The unsatisfactory circumstance forced Bacina to throw on Jamil for Firdaus as he sought more direct runs toward goal.

With the Young Lions defenders putting everything on the line for their cause, set-pieces looked to be the best bet for Bacina's team. Amri won a 59th-minute foul after a mazy dribble past three opposition players, and while his skipper managed to beat the goalkeeper from the free kick attempt, the cross-bar stood in the way of a Tampines breakthrough.

Undeterred, the crosses continued to come in thick and fast from the Stags, with Hadzibulic looking the most likely to pounce on them. However, El-Masri came close to upstaging the Tampines striker when he skipped past Shaiful 14 minutes from time to put himself through on goal, before hitting the side-netting with his attempt.

Injuring himself while trying to catch El-Masri, Shaiful was taken off for Imran Sahib a minute later. Instead of being distracted by their wounded team-mate, Tampines capitalised in a lapse in concentration by the Young Lions to finally open the scoring.

Substitute Duric, who had come on 10 minutes earlier for Shahdan Sulaiman, got on the end of Jamil's ball down the centre of the Cubs' defence, and the experienced front-man did not need a second invitation to slot the ball home.

Shown the way by Duric, the Stags began attacking with renewed vigour in hopes of effectively putting an end to the contest. They got their wish just six minutes after the 42-year old's opener.

Last-ditch defending from the Young Lions saw Imran's 84th-minute cross headed clear just before it could endanger Rudy's goalmouth, only for the rebound to fall to Mustafic. The Singapore international made up for his earlier miss by shooting hard and low to double his team's advantage.

Despite their initial difficulties in finding the back of the net, Tampines were relentless in their quest for three points and their determination was duly rewarded.

The victory over the Cubs marks their third in as many games this season, standing them in good stead for their upcoming AFC Cup opener against Vietnamese Cup winners Sai Gon Xuan Thanh.

Tampines Rovers: Sasa Dreven, Anaz Hadee, Kunihiro Yamashita, Seiji Kaneko, Shaiful Esah (Imran Sahib 77'), Firdaus Kasman (Jamil Ali 45'), Mustafic Fahrudin, Martin Wagner, Khairul Amri, Shahdan Sulaiman (Aleksandar Duric 65'), Sead Hadzibulic.

Courts Young Lions:  Rudy Khairullah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Nurullah Hussein, Firman Hanif (Sheikh Abdul Hadi 52'), Emmeric Ong, Tajeli Salamat, Shamil Sharif (Eddie Chang 67'), Nur Na'iim Ishak, Sherif El-Masri, Ignatius Ang, Sufianto Salleh (Nur Ridho 82')

Attendance: 1,865

Image courtesy of S.League

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