Home United eked out a 1-1 draw against Tampines Rovers at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday night to seal second spot in the Singapore Premier League.
Khairul Amri gave the Stags the lead from the spot before Shahril Ishak equalised for the Protectors to earn his side a spot in the AFC Champions League qualifiers next season.
The significance of the occasion – both teams fighting to finish second – was obvious from the get go as both coaches Aidil Sharin and Jurgen Raab postured animatedly on the touchline from the first minute.
The visitors had the better of the earlier exchanges as Song Ui-young went for an early third-minute shot to test Syazwan Buhari in goal.
It was the South Korean who was at it again in the 11th minute when his through ball set Fazli Ayob free, but the winger’s effort was saved by Syazwan.
The Stags finally got into the game on 16 minutes when Irwan Shah’s pinpoint cross found KhairulA mri who took a couple of touches before unleashing a shot that was deflected out for a corner.
The tension between the two teams began to fester further as Madhu Mohana caught Song late in the 20th minute and earned himself a caution.
With both sides pressing high, there was little time on the ball and neither team managed to string their passes together.
The Protectors began the second period with Faritz Hameed almost breaking the deadlock in the 49th minute. Shahril’s cheeky cut-back gave him acres of space in the box but the wing-back drilled a low effort narrowly wide.
It was Tampines’ turn on 57 minutes to test goalkeeper Kenji Rusydi. Some good work down the right by Zulfadhmi Suzliman found Ryutaro Megumi unmarked in the box.
The Japanese forward’s cross was palmed away by Kenji but Amri reacted quickest to the rebound, only to see an alert Kenji pull off a good save.
Home coach Aidil sensed the Tampines insurgence and brought on Aqhari Abdullah in place of Iqram Rifqi to stamp the tide.
As both teams went in search of the winner, it was the Stags who carved out the opening goal from nowhere in the 70th minute. Megumi was adjudged to have been tripped by Abdil Qaiyyim in the box and Amri stepped up to slow home the resulting penalty to make it 1-0.
Their lead only lasted six minutes as Shahril was accorded time in the Tampines box to plant his shot past Syazwan to make it one apiece.
Tampines sent on striker Taufik Suparno for Madhu – who had to be substituted himself after suffering a hand injury – to chase the win they needed.
Instead of scoring the winner, Tampines conceded a penalty when substitute Shah Shahiran brought down Hafiz Nor. Song missed from the spot but the visitors eked out the point that put them as the highest-placed local team in the league with 43 points.
The Protectors will go on to represent Singapore in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Tampines Rovers Head Coach Jurgen Raab: “The situation was very clear, we knew we must win and that was the target. We did a good job and we showed up today. Normally when you are so close to something, you want a good end to it but this probably sums up our season.
“We have not had the complete quality in the team to keep a lead this season. Their equaliser was so easy. We don’t have as much quality this season as last year because we had more young players this time but that is OK because we now know which players have the quality, which players we should continue with next season. We definitely need more balance in the team next season.”
Home United Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “For me, it is important to put the club first instead of myself. We haven’t reached this level as a club for a while now. We haven’t finished second in the league and haven’t played Champions League football for a long time.
“So this season, for the club, I’m really happy but the credit has to go to the players and coaching staff because this journey wouldn’t have happened without their commitment.
“Having said that, this is just the start. We need to focus now on Albirex. If we want to play Champions League football, we must show we can do well against Albirex and not just finish second behind them. So hopefully, we can bring something against them (in the Singapore Cup) on Wednesday.”
Tampines Rovers: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Daniel Bennett (C), Madhu Mohana (Taufik Suparno 80’)(Shah Shahiran 88’), Irfan Najeeb, Irwan Shah, Shameer Aziq (Hafiz Sujad 69’), Amirul Adli, Jordan Webb, Ryutaro Megumi, Zulfadhmi Suzliman, Khairul Amri
Home United: Kenji Rusydi (GK), Shakir Hamzah, Abdil Qaiyyim, Faizal Roslan, Faritz Hameed, Isaka Cernak, Iqram Rifqi (Aqhari Abdullah 60’), Izzdin Shafiq, Fazli Ayob (Hafiz Nor 78’), Song Ui-young, Shahril Ishak (M. Anumanthan 82’)