If it’s one thing we learned following the events of our previous fixture against Lion City Sailors, Tampines Rovers does not cry over spilt milk and kick up an unnecessary fuss. We learn from our mistakes and we soldier on.
If one thing is certain, our fixture against Hougang United was one of many themes.
“Taking Your Chances” probably dominated the thoughts of players and the coaching staff after the last game and the players knew that they needed to be clinical heading into this game.
“Evolution” probably best describes this Tampines Rovers side. Our squad is growing from strength to strength and the team played their hearts out last game, knowing all too well that they have established a benchmark for the remainder of the campaign. Yet, these were not the only themes prevalent.
"Home" was another.
Tampines were in search of their first three points of the campaign and what better way to gain that victory than now. After all, for the first time this season, we were playing at Our Tampines Hub, our home. It was fitting that we do it in front of the throngs of Stags fans seated in attendance.
In light of it being our first home fixture, we partnered up with Social Gifting once again and were fortunate to collaborate with yet another warrior, Aunty Betty, who handcrafted Tampines Rovers Kit Dolls. If you've missed out on purchasing one yesterday, do not fret. The Limited Edition Dolls will be on sale again during our next home game for $12 a piece, and all proceeds go to Aunty Betty.
The First Half
We did not make any changes to the starting eleven that featured in the previous match and when the referee blew the first whistle, we picked up from where we left off. Darting down the wings, our Stags were manoeuvring around the Hougang defence with relative ease. We had shown the same level of skill against Sailors but while we had two disallowed goals, we couldn’t find our scoring boots on other occasions that evening.
This time we weren’t about to make the same mistake and it wasn’t long before we made amends from the previous fixture. We evolved.
Kyoga Nakamura delivered a brilliant over the top through ball for Boris Kopitović, who sprinted along the right flank with Nazrul Nazari hot on his heels. Big Bad Boris easily fended off the pressure from the Hougang right-back, spun around and unleashed a sensational finesse shot near the edge of the box that curled past Ridhuan Bahrudin into the bottom left corner of the goal. Boris was unlucky not to get a few goals against Sailors the previous round but he was determined to get on the scoresheet this time. 10 minutes in, the Stags led 1-0.
Yet, a one-goal cushion was never going to be enough. The Cheetahs had the quality to turn things around and we needed to take every chance we got. We learned our lessons from our season opener against Balestier Khalsa, and were not about to remove our feet from the gas pedal.
After a series of attacking movements, we broke through yet again.
A series of short passes between various Tampines players saw Zehrudin Mehmedovic make a clever pass to Taufik Suparno who found space in the penalty box. Like a true fox in the box, Taufik drilled his shot past the Hougang custodian, beating him at the near post. Taufik was threatening the Hougang defence consistently up till that point, and it was only a matter of time before his name was on the scoresheet. 2-0 to the Stags.
As half time encroached, it seemed like the Stags were going to head into the locker room with a two-goal lead but we managed to earn a set-piece from a dangerous position - and our Serbian wizard had ideas of his own.
From the free-kick, Chris van Huizen whipped in a beautiful cross - one that glided into the centre of the box and made life difficult for the Hougang goalkeeper, who fumbled trying to catch Chris’s delivery. In the chaos, Mehmedovic executed an overhead kick to score the third goal of the fixture. Unlike his acrobatic finish against Sailors, this goal counted and Zeko finally opened his account for the season. The Stags led 3-0 as the referee blew his whistle for Half Time.
The Second Half
Barely a minute after the restart, we struck again.
With the ball between his feet, Taufik bombarded down the left flank once again. Breaking free from his marker, the pacey wing patroller squared it to our towering Montenegrin, who easily buried it for his second goal of the evening and the Stags’ fourth. 4-0 to the Stags.
4 minutes later, Goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari thumps it forward, and Yasir Hanapi skillfully flicks the ball to Boris. The forward excellently picks out Taufik, who once again, was bolting down the left-wing. Using his pace, he slips in between two Hougang defenders and calmly lobs it over Ridhuan, who rushed out in vain to stop Taufik. Tampines Rovers lead 5-0.
However, Hougang United managed to pull one back through Shawal Anuar seconds after the restart. The Cheetahs reduced the margin from five to four goals with the scoreline 5-1, in the Stags’ favour.
The Stags could have eased up and entered cruise control, but that was not the Tampines way. Motivated by the cheers and applause of the Rovers faithful, they continued to press, looking for opportunities to break down the Hougang defence, while snuffing out the Cheetah’s attacks.
Marc Ryan Tan replaced Taufik Suparno and mere minutes later, like Taufik, whizzed down the left flank and scored a delicious chip. Marc continued from where Taufik left off and truly took his chance when it was presented to him. 6-1 to the Stags.
Just when you thought the Stags had shut up shop, they proved everyone wrong. After Kyoga Nakamura collected the ball, he penetrated deep into Hougang's half with a forward driving run. Our midfield maestro found an unmarked Boris Kopitovic with a precise pass, who took his shot the first time. The forward looked to make up for his missed chances against the Sailors and he did so in style, completing his hat-trick and making it 7-1 to the Stags.
Soon after, the referee blew his whistle for the final time and ended Hougang United’s misery. We may have played the Cheetahs, but it was the Stags that left Hougang trailing by a considerable margin.
What a way to mark our first home game of the season. The contingent of Tampines Rovers fans was in absolute jubilation once the referee called an end to the game, and gave the Stags a truly deserved standing ovation.
Taufik Suparno was over the moon to bag a brace, especially since he was recently called up to the National Team.
“I think it was a really great win for us because we took our chances and everyone really followed the game plan,” shares the forward. “I was hyped up before the game after finding out I was selected for the national team and heading into this game, I wanted to show people that I deserved this call-up. So, I’m really happy to have scored a brace today and I am very proud of the way the team played.”
Our Head Coach Gavin Lee reiterated that this win was a team effort and involved every single member of the squad - those that did and did not feature against Hougang yesterday.
“I am very proud of the way we played, and those who came on helped us maintain what we wanted to do, which was very important,” explains Gavin. “However, this kind of performance is not possible without the other members who didn’t feature today because they are the ones who provided us with the challenge and resistance in training. Today is the sum of all their hard work so far and hopefully, we push on.”
It was indeed a performance that everyone could be proud of. The Stags played with a burning passion and desire. Importantly though, the different members of the team took every chance that came their way and that was how we claimed all three points. In a night of Heroes, we wonder - Who’s Next to rise up to the occasion?
Speaking of Heroes, it is the manner in which we claimed the victory that is also something we can take pride in. While most other sides usually start one U-23 player, we began our last three games with at least two. When you are good enough, you are indeed old enough here at Tampines Rovers. Ryaan Sanizal and Ong Yu En were fantastic in their roles, and due praise must be given to Marc Ryan Tan, Adam Reefdy and Andrew Aw for coming in and taking the game by the scruff of its neck. Tampines Rovers has a history of mixing youth and experience, and transforming talented prospects into Singaporean icons. This victory was extra special because of the prominent roles our younger Stags had - something many teams can’t say.
Besides Taufik, this game also had special significance for three other Stags. Ryaan Sanizal, Christopher van Huizen, and Syazwan Buhari have also been called up for the Singapore National Team alongside him - a further testament to the evolution of this side. Ryaan, Syazwan and Taufik are in contention to make their National Team debuts, while Chris would look to add to the 4 caps that he has under his belt. We wish our four Stags the very best during this upcoming international break and we hope that more players from Tampines Rovers will feature in time to come.
For now, though, we look forward to the next fixture while relishing this victory. What's Next?