Heartbreak at the Death : Lion City Sailors 2 - 1 Tampines Rovers
Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Threatening conditions greeted us as we entered Jalan Besar Stadium for our crunch clash with the Lion City Sailors. In our last meeting at this venue in March, we could have counted ourselves extremely unlucky in not getting any points, losing 1-0, but the Stags were definitely looking for a change of fortunes yesterday evening.
It was a beautiful moment before the game where, in celebration of The Sailors' recent partnership with the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, all ticket proceeds for the game would be donated to the association.
We at Tampines Rovers also did our part, with an additional $5,000 donation cheque in collaboration with the initiative which was presented by our Chairman Desmond Ong before kickoff.
And with the pre-match formalities out of the way, we got ready for an enthralling evening of football that was to come.
The First Half
As Song Ui-Young kicked off proceedings, the Stags were already breaking into the Sailors’ half to begin the press, forcing them backwards. Led by Captain Yasir Hanapi, the message was clear - the Sailors will not be getting it easy today. So much so that within 2 minutes, we were nearly given a first chance.
Top Scorer Boris Kopitovic, while chasing down a pass by Kyoga Nakamura, caused a mix-up between Iqram Rifqi and Pedro Henrique. If it weren't for a quick recovery by Iqram, who knows what would have come from that opportunity, especially if it fell to our free-scoring Montenegrin.
From the first 20 minutes, we looked on top, forcing The Sailors to play balls over the top and down the wings where we were able to deal with the threats rather comfortably through our proactive defence.
We would soon get our first shot on target with Kyoga being the architect of the move. He received the ball from Shuya Yamashita outside the box, turning away brilliantly from the challenge of Diego Lopes before playing a pinpoint diagonal towards Boris on the right flank. Boris, in typical style, charges into the Sailors half and lays the ball off to Yasir, whose shot unfortunately falls tamely into the grasp of Hassan Sunny in the Sailors’ goal. However, as we pushed for the go-ahead goal, we soon found ourselves behind.
Firdaus Kasman was adjudged to have brought down Diego 30 yards from our goal. Shahdan, as he had done many times before in Stags Yellow, played a ball into the box which found the head of Song. His header at the near post was planted into the corner of the net, leaving Syazwan rooted to the ground. Against the run of play, the Sailors were ahead 1-0.
As demoralizing as it was to fall behind, we kept their heads up and went on the offensive to set up the next chance, which fell to Zeko. Chris Van Huizen’s pacey burst with the ball down the left flank was passed to Yasir, who laid it off to Kyoga. Our Japanese magician then found Zeko, who turned into space before sending a shot towards goal which was denied by a fine save from Hassan Sunny. As the rain clouds started to open up, so did this game.
With the Sailors going ahead, it was imperative that the Stags started to take more risks. Unfortunately with those risks, it would mean more space for the Sailors to exploit. This resulted in a couple of chances for the Sailors’ attackers through crosses into the box, but stellar defending from Adam Reefdy and Shuya Yamashita prevented any further damage.
Our defence would again be called into action towards the end of the half on 3 occasions - Sailors’ attacker Haiqal Pashia was sent through by Diego on a quick breakaway but was thwarted by our combination of Firdaus and Kyoga. The ball then fell kindly for Diego who proceeded to lob Syazwan, only for him to get back in time to make a good save.
From the resulting corner, Haiqal was able to find Diego in the box but his shot was denied brilliantly by a combination of Ryaan and Syazwan. Diego was again involved as his run and pass found Song on the edge of the box, but once again, Syazwan stood tall and batted the ball away.
It was a frenetic end to the first half but the Stags’ dedicated defence did enough to keep it at 1-0 and keep the second half well poised.
The Second Half
The rain subsided as both teams took to the pitch but it did nothing to dampen the tempo of the game. We immediately went back on the offensive and continued on the front foot, but we were also wary of the Sailors threats in the attacking areas, especially when we were on the transition from attack to defence : one sign of that was when Diego’s through ball to Song was recovered brilliantly by Irfan Najeeb, who showed tremendous pace to catch up with the Singapore international and make the tackle.
At the 63 minute mark, resolute defending from our Stags prevented a certain goal from the Sailors. Substitute Hafiz Nor rounded Syazwan after a through ball from Song, but his cutback was blocked by Ryaan only to fall into the path of Diego. Shuya came diving in to make sure the shot did not bulge the net and Irfan completed the clearance. It was breathless action but the Stags were holding strong so as to give a fighting chance for a result.
As the clock ticked to 74 minutes, we continued to be on the ascendency but the chances were not falling our way. This was the moment substitute Shameer Aziq, who recently also featured off our bench, took matters into his own hands and started the play despite coming on just seconds earlier. He drove into the Sailors half, skipping one challenge, and played the ball to Yasir who laid it off into the path of an onrushing Kyoga. The Japanese midfielder pushed the ball into the box for a shot, but his left footed effort went just over the bar.
Shameer and Yasir were then involved again, this time Boris being the recipient of the final ball but in un-Boris-like fashion, he misplaced his final attempt. However, we were not to be denied just 2 minutes later.
Both Stags substitutes were involved in our eventual equalizer, as Irwan Shah played a pinpoint through pass onto the path of Taufik Suparno. He managed to get the better of Amirul Adli and knocked it well past the onrushing Hassan. The Stand, who had shown an incredible level of energy throughout the entire game, fittingly erupted, and Taufik, eager to go for the win, grabbed the ball to restart play as soon as possible.
With his 7th goal of the season, this makes it his most prolific season in professional football, and with 12 games left he can certainly get more. 1-1, Game On.
It started becoming frantic as the Sailors threw everything they had but we stayed resolute.
The big chance to win it for the Stags fell to Boris in the 83rd minute. Taufik played an over the top through ball for Irwan to chase down the left flank. He then played a cross into Boris, but was unfortunately denied by the on-form Hassan Sunny.
It simply looked like it was not our day, and that was confirmed 3 minutes into added time. Pedro, from winning the ball back for the Sailors, raced forward into the box and knocked in the cutback from substitute Maxime Lestienne. Heart-breaking. Simply heart-breaking.
It truly was a tough one to take. But we can take heart from the performance from our Stags today. The never say die attitude was present in everyone who took the field. From Young Bucks like Andrew Aw and Adam Reefdy who showed maturity well beyond their age in dealing with the experienced Sailors threats down the left-hand side. To the full-fledged Stags in Kyoga and Firdaus who fought for every challenge, and did their very best to push the side’s intensity to overdrive throughout all 90 minutes of the game.
With the presence of 3 U-23 players in our starting lineup compared to the Sailors 1, and with 7/9 of our bench also featuring Young Bucks, we can be proud to be the main proponents in the SPL allowing our country’s local youngsters to thrive under pressure. With this, it is a given that mistakes will be made and points will be lost, but given the way these players have performed, especially against ACL-calibre opposition, we can be safe in the knowledge that we are building a future not only for Tampines Rovers, but for Singapore football.
On another day, our performance yesterday evening would have been enough for us to take the 3 points back home. But on this day of fine, fine margins, we sadly fell short.
The heated match was, however, marred with unpleasant conduct towards the dying minutes of the game. The match report is no place to address this though, and the club may make a separate official statement at a later date.
For now, though, we would like to extend massive thanks to The Stand for their immense support during that intense contest. You made the terraces at JBS our own and gave your everything in support of the Stags. We will see you again when we return Home on the 30th of July to face Hougang United.
Come On You Stags!