Finally after a long 3 year wait, we were to embark on the defence of our Singapore Cup title won in 2019 - and what better way to have kick-started the campaign than to play off against our Eastern rivals Geylang.
We were placed in Group B for the Cup, or in most people’s eyes, the ‘Group of Death’ where 3rd to 6th in the standings of the recently concluded Singapore Premier League season are placed together. Both teams enjoyed great ends to the season, with Geylang only having lost once in their last 6 league games, while we were on an 8 match unbeaten streak.
Our Head Coach, Gavin Lee spoke pre-match on the excitement of having the tournament back again and the benefit of having a positive end to the league season prior to the Cup.
“We are all thrilled to have this competition back again - everybody has a good chance so it makes the competition very exciting and we can’t wait to start tonight. In terms of the mental state (of the team), it allows us to be a little more positive than the other teams, but when the game kicks off it’s about what we do on the pitch that matters, and to give our 100%.”
He also touched on how, despite having beaten the Eagles three times over the league season, we should definitely not be taking this game lightly.
“We always go into (games against Geylang) with a game plan, and sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. Like in the last game where we drew 0-0, playing against them is never easy because they are a good side who press well and it will be important for us to build up out of their pressure to allow us to dominate the game a lot better.”
As for team changes, the trio of Firdaus Kasman, Amirul Haikal and Ong Yu En were introduced into the starting lineup where they replaced Zehrudin Memedovic, Irwan Shah and Taufik Suparno, with the latter duo being named on the bench.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with Sime Zuzul looking to provide the attacking threat for our Eastern rivals with an early burst into our penalty area. However, we were the ones to gain the upperhand just three minutes into the match-up.
An attacking throw on the left flank from Amirul Haikal found Boris Kopitovic, who, in one swift motion, turned Geylang defender Joshua Pereira. His driven cross was turned in by Faizal Roslan, who was under pressure by Ong Yu En at the back post. If the defender hadn’t touched the ball, the Young Buck would certainly have had a tap in. Regardless, the scoreline read 0-1 to us, and our cup defence was off to a flier.
The Eagles’ high pressure play caused a couple of issues early, leading to outside-the-box shots taken by Huzaifah Aziz and Vincent Bezecourt - but these failed to test custodian Syazwan Buhari. Even though it seemed that Geylang were starting to grow into the game, we almost got our second through our most obvious goal threat.
The high pressure forced us to go long in the 14 minute mark, but with Kyoga Nakamura in the base of the midfield, we had a player who could turn defence into attack in a blink of an eye. It was his long ball that found Boris, who once again got the better of Pereira and bore down on goal. He opened his body to finish into the far corner, and forced Zaiful Nizam into a good stop.
After, we had another good passage of play from the duo of Ong Yu En and Boris, who looked to be making a beautiful partnership as the former set up the latter, but found Rio Sakuma the only stumbling block from us getting a second goal.
As we were getting on top in the game, the heavens opened up over Our Tampines Hub, but that did little to dampen the pace of the game - Boris found himself through again but Pereira was able to get to the ball first to thwart the Montenegrin. Geylang would fashion a couple more opportunities, but we soon got the chance to double our lead in the 43rd minute right at the stroke of half-time.
Boris and Yu En were at it again, but this time it was the former who found the latter with a brilliant through ball to which the Young Buck ran onto. He got to the ball ahead of Zaiful, but as he gained control, Faisal Roslan bundled into him and Geylang conceded a penalty. ‘Big Bad’ Boris would convert, making it 8 successful penalties for him in the season and 36 goals for his 2022 campaign. 0-2 and we looked firmly in control for the 3 points.
Geylang would have the final chance of the half, but Syazwan was able to comfortably gather a Hazzuwan Halim header, which immediately preceded the whistle for half time. We were halfway to the first 3 points in our defense of the cup after a solid first-half performance.
As The Stand greeted the team for the second half, the goal was clear, and that was to keep our rivals at arm's length and hold on to the victory. We did that for the first 20 minutes of the half, but slowly Geylang’s pressure started to intensify as they got into the groove of things. It led to them getting a goal back at the 68 minute mark.
Zuzul, who had been our opponent’s main goal threat all night, would get the better of Ryaan Sanizal and raced towards goal. He laid it off for a powerful shot from Tajeli, which Syazwan parried unfortunately into the path of Zuzul, who made no mistake. 1-2 and it was going to be a nervy final quarter of the game.
We nearly got the two-goal lead back just two minutes later, but Boris’s shot, set up by substitute Taufik Suparno who replaced Yu En, was saved well by Zaiful again.
With Geylang pressing for the equalizer, it needed a combined effort to keep them out, and this time it was Shuya Yamashita who produced a big piece of defending when the Eagles launched a counter attack from a Rovers corner.
We produced a counter from a corner of our own, as another substitute in Joel Chew pulled the strings and fed Boris on the left flank. A pinpoint ball was played into the path of Taufik, who only had Zaiful to beat, but he could unfortunately only find the grateful grasp of the Geylang custodian.
In a match of many saves from both sides, it was our ‘keeper who produced the save of the match, as Syazwan made a brilliant diving save to deny Tezuka after neat interplay by the Geylang side. We were ten minutes away from victory in this tie.
Vincent Bezecourt and substitute Khairul Hairie would take turns to have attempts at goal, but Syazwan was once again behind the efforts. The 2nd Half barrage would prove to finally bear fruit for Geylang though, as our custodian’s heroics could not stop what happened in the 87th minute. Khairul would convert from a right-flank cross after sustained pressure by the Geylang frontline.
2-2 and all signs pointed at a draw - we’ve come from behind many times before, but surely there was too little time to get the win?
Of course, that was until a familiar figure in Kyoga decided to take matters into his own hands, as he often does. In what would prove to be a smart set-piece play designed to unleash his devastating long-shot, he still had to do the hard work of finding the space to attempt on goal, and that he did. The Japanese midfielder received a short corner from Captain Yasir Hanapi, sidestepped two Geylang players before he arrowed a precise low drive into the corner of Zaiful’s net.
Absolutely sublime. It was 2-3, and The Stand went wild!
From one hero to another, Tampines custodian Syazwan Buhari would cap off a big performance at the final stroke of full-time, first by saving Tezuka’s free kick, and then gathering safely from the resulting corner.
The final whistle then blew upon our 4th Eastern Derby victory of the season. What a way to win it, to not only walk away with the Eastern pride, but also to put our defence of the Cup in the right direction.
We got there in the end, and what matters is that we got the 3 points in a tough, competitive group, as well as the derby pride that was at stake. As was alluded to before the game, Geylang certainly did not make it easy for us, and despite losing the two goal lead, our Mentality Monsters pressed on, and found the winning goal right at the death. That makes it 3 out of the last 6 matches where we found the win from a drawn or losing position in the second half, as well as 2 injury-time match-winners in our most recent games. A ticket to a Tampines game is proving to be a guaranteed thrill ride.
One big positive from today’s game has got to be the newfound combination of top scorer Boris Kopitovic and Young Buck Ong Yu En, who were able to combine to good effect in the first half with chances created and the eventual winning of a penalty. We spoke to Yu En after the game about how that very connection with Boris was formed.
“Before the game and during our trainings, Boris would always tell me to play the ball into the space for him, so I thought there was that connection between the both of us - and as an example, for the penalty it was him that played me through on goal instead.”
When asked about the recent surge in form for not only himself, but also for the entire team to make it nine unbeaten games in a row for us, he simply replied with a smile, “Mamba Mentality.”
Another player that also personified this very mindset came in the form of The Dream Weaver, Kyoga Nakamura, who just two matches ago successfully dreamt up a scenario where he scored a crucial goal to give us a lead. Of course, as we got to chat with him after the game, we saw another case of this otherworldly manifestation.
“Today, I visualised a situation where we were already 2-1 up and I added to the lead, but (the real opportunity came) at 2-2 (instead)! Every day in training, I try to shoot from outside the box, and this is important for me because very small details can make good performances and goals. Anyway, I’m happy that the team got out of a tough situation to win. The most important thing for this first game was winning, and we did it!”
Lastly, we had to catch up with another Hero of the match, our trusty shot-stopper Syazwan Buhari, who has been our man between-the-sticks for every single game this season but, as usual, humbly played off his valorous performance, and similarly echoed the importance of the win today.
“I had to do what I had to do to help the team, and it was nothing special! It was a very important win as we needed a good start (to the Singapore Cup campaign).”
Always good to start off with a good result and long may that continue!
Massive thanks to The Stand once again for flying the yellow and black banners high, and for making sure that Our Tampines Hub is Yellow not only on the pitch but in the stands too. Kyoga had one last word for the Tampines faithful.
“Your support makes some wonderful energy (for the team), so let’s keep fighting together!”
Onto Tanjong Pagar on Tuesday!