After back to back wins, Tampines Rovers were determined to continue their winning streak. Yet, our Stags were up against the only team still undefeated in the Singapore Premier League, Tanjong Pagar United. This season, the Jaguars have surprised many with their performances, including a stunning 2-0 opening day victory over Albirex Niigata (S).
Nevertheless, our Stags were unfazed by Tanjong Pagar's recent exploits and, given the squad's brilliant performances in the past two fixtures, it was bound to be a mouthwatering clash between two teams in fine form.
The Stags knew that they needed to be at their best to come away with a result. The undefeated Jags were certainly on the hunt to add a Stag head to their trophy cabinet but our Stags were determined to end the streak once and for all.
The Match Report
It was the Jaguars that kicked off the match proceedings, and the battle soon began.
The opening minutes saw both sides tussling for possession and it seemed as if we’d wait long before the first goal scored. Yet, 'Big Bad' Boris Kopitovic had other ideas in mind.
From the right flank, our League's top scorer unleashes a shot from an acute angle, which bounced off Faritz Hameed and trickled into the bottom right corner of the goal, well beyond the reach of Zharfan Rohaizad, who stood rooted to his spot. It’s a shame that it eventually went down as an Own Goal, but regardless, it’s 1-0 to the Stags, twelve minutes in.
After conceding an early goal, Tanjong Pagar United upped their intensity and piled bodies forward in a bid to grab the equalizer. The Jaguars piled on the pressure with each attack but the Stags nullified each offensive movement, and 7 minutes after the first goal, the Stags doubled their lead.
Boris Kopitovic was the main man yet again. The forward skillfully rounded the Tanjong Pagar Keeper, Zharfan, who had rushed out to collect the ball, and yet again from an acute angle, buried his shot into the back of the net to make it 2-0. Boris finally (officially) registers his first of the fixture, and puts himself into the de facto lead for Top Goalscorer, with 7 Goals in our 5 Games.
Two goals down but not out. The Jaguars were far from deflated but no matter how hard they tried to claw a goal back, the Stags stymied each opportunity. Syazwan Buhari produced two world-class saves towards the end of the first half to ensure we maintained a clean sheet going into the break.
It was the first half in which our Stags displayed incredible chemistry. Stringing a series of beautiful passes, they ran circles around the Tanjong Pagar United players, and showcased metronomic movements that confounded the Jaguars' defence. It was a delight for any member of The Stand, who attended the game live or tuned in at home.
Once the referee blew his whistle, both teams picked up from where they left off - and the chances continued flowing. The Tampines fans in attendance almost had another reason to celebrate soon after as well, when Taufik Suparno produced a venomous shot that rattled the crossbar barely two minutes into the second half.
The chances culminated in the 64th minute, as Chris van Huizen found himself in an advanced position through his usual hard work patrolling the flanks. He feinted right to send the covering Shodai Nishikawa chasing, creating just a touch of space which was enough for him to release a left-footed finesse shot from the edge of the box. The scintillating attempt curled into the back of the net to give the Stags a 3-0 lead.
Yet, the Jaguars kept on knocking on our door, and in the 68th minute, an attacking passage by Shodai resulted in us conceding a penalty after veteran striker Khairul Amri was judged to have been brought down in the box. Reo Nishiguchi stepped up and duly converted from the spot-kick. Tanjong Pagar made it 3-1.
Six minutes later, Reo doubled his tally by converting a looping header from a Tanjong Pagar United corner kick. The scoreline then read 3-2.
The lead was slender but still in the Stags’ favour. The Stand immediately rallied behind our Stags, chanting loudly, and spurring them on towards the final whistle. Credit to our fans, they never stopped cheering on our Stags, but it did not seem to be our day today. In the dying embers of the fixture, an Aqhari Abdullah cross met the head of Mirko Sugic, which was enough to salvage a point for the Jaguars.
It was a real sucker punch for the Stags who did brilliantly up till that point, but the final whistle indicated the result for the night : a 3-3 draw.
The Jaguars may have left the game with their streak intact but they did not claim the three points, landing them in 2nd Place after yesterday night - and that was thanks to a commanding opening period for our Stags. Yasir Hanapi led by example in this fixture. The skipper was an electric presence in the attacking third, covering every inch of space and regaining lost balls to turn them into proper chances for the team.
With two fixtures this week, our Head Coach Gavin Lee rotated the squad to ensure fresh legs for both games. This game marked Amirul Haikal's return to the line-up, his first start since the opening day fixture against Balestier Khalsa, as well as the first competitive start for Firdaus Kasman since his return to the Stags.
Yet, it was a big day for one player in particular. After making several substitute appearances this campaign, 17-year-old Adam Reefdy finally makes his full debut for Tampines Rovers. Adam had been on the fringes of the first team during the 2020 campaign, making only two appearances off the bench. Yet, through sheer hard work and guidance from our coaching staff, he has developed into a fine talent that still has immense potential to fulfil. What a way to mark your full debut against the undefeated Jaguars.
"It was a really good experience for me," shares Adam. "After two years of hard work with the club, I am very grateful for the faith that the coaching staff have put in me. While the result was less than desirable, I know we can bounce back from this. We are capable of so much more."
The Stand truly rallied behind the team this fixture and despite the draw, showed their support for the players once the referee blew his final whistle.
Yori Haqimi, a member of The Stand, and one of our valued Season Pass holders, shares his thoughts :
"We had a really great first half and overall, we fought well and the team tried their best. That being said, Tanjong Pagar really brought the game to us in the last 20 minutes. Regardless, I know the team will learn from their mistakes and return stronger for the next fixture."
Indeed, the Stags may have not lost today but we will not be celebrating this result. Tampines Rovers is historically known for routinely bagging three points. We will certainly learn from our mistakes and bounce back stronger - onto the next game this Saturday!