With 4 wins in the last 5 games, we come into this matchup against Young Lions as favourites to claim 3rd spot and AFC qualification. With a win, we would pull ourselves 7 points clear of our nearest challengers, Geylang, and be this much closer to sealing that AFC berth. Having played the same opponents at the same venue just 10 days ago, Head Coach Gavin Lee was looking for an improvement in the 1-0 victory, where our performance was unconvincing at best.
We made one change to the starting lineup that beat the Young Lions two weeks ago, with Ryaan Sanizal coming in to replace Amirul Haikal in defence. As our Top Scorer Boris Kopitovic stood poised at kickoff, he knew that with a goal today, he would go on and break the Tampines Rovers’ record of most goals in a single season.
An early goal would be pivotal in this game, and we nearly got off to the perfect start. Syed Firdaus was picked out by Kyoga Nakamura with a wonderful lofted pass, but his lobbed shot sailed over the bar.
Just 30 seconds later, and we were through again, this time with Boris Kopitovic. Our high press was able to win back possession in the Young Lions half, and when Boris was put through by Iman Hakim, there seemed to be only one outcome. Unfortunately, his shot would cannon off the post! So close by our Montenegrin hitman, who, after Kodai Tanaka’s 4 goal haul last night, was trailing the Japanese on the SPL goal scoring charts by two goals.
Speaking of Japanese superstars, it was one of ours that kicked off the scoring proceedings here. Kyoga exchanged passes with Syed Firdaus down the right hand side and, from an impossible angle at the byline, was able to find the left footed shot to beat Ridhwan Fikri. This goal was almost akin to Andrey Arshavin’s famous goal against Blackburn for Arsenal, except this time it was our Japanese maestro who was on hand to get the finish. 1-0, and we were back to where we were in the previous Young Lions fixture, in just half the time.
You would think that this goal could have led to us getting more in the first, but it was unfortunately not the case. Almost akin to the last match that we played against the Young Lions, we dominated possession but were unable to find that killer pass behind their defence. When we did make it through, we unfortunately could not take advantage to get our shots on target.
As the half wore on, our opponents started gaining the confidence to fashion opportunities, but our defence stood firm and restricted them mostly to half chances. As the half-time whistle sounded, you could feel a sense of deja vu, and Head Coach Gavin definitely had an important half-time team talk to make.
We ended the first half with 10 shots attempted, but with only 3 of them on target, including the goal. We were indeed getting the opportunities but were just not being clinical enough. A big second half was to come.
As the teams came out of the tunnel, Zehrudin ‘Zeko’ Mehmedovic was kitted out and ready to go in place of Iman Hakim, who had some bright moments in the first half. As alluded to by Gavin the previous week, Zeko has been eased back into action after his injury layoff but is making a big impact on the team coming on in the later part of matches. In this one, he was instantly in the thick of the action, providing a through ball to Boris who brought out the best of saves from Ridhwan just one minute into the second half. What a way to start his 100th game in Tampines colours.
And it didn’t stop there, as It was in the 48th minute that we would double our lead, with Zeko involved in a wonderful free-flowing move down the left that gave Captain Yasir Hanapi his 4th goal of the season. The partnership between Kyoga and Zeko has been almost telepathic this season, with both players being able to find each other with pinpoint precision. To cap off the move, Zeko’s ingenuity was fully on show, with a backheel to find Boris who laid it on a plate for Yasir to fire in. 2-0.
With 5 goals in the league this season so far, Zeko was one away from equaling his season-best of 6, and he did just that in the 55th minute. Taufik Suparno was the main instigator in the goal as he barged his way into the Young Lions box. With no way to get through, he played it back to Yasir Hanapi who, with a deft lob, found Irwan Shah on the left. His cross found Boris whose header was saved by Ridhwan, but Zeko was on hand to smash in the rebound. 3-0, and yet another contribution from the Centurion.
It was only a matter of time before Big Bad Boris would get on the act and also break his record, after having his share of missed chances in the first half. Again, it was our left flank that caused so many issues for the Young Lions, and when Irwan’s cross caused mayhem in the box, Boris was on hand to punish and smash it into the back of the net. As his teammates rushed in to congratulate him on being the club’s all-time single-season Top Scorer, you could just feel that there was going to be more in this for Our Stags. 4-0.
It wasn’t long later that he found another chance at goal, but this time, the team’s mentality and spirit came on full display. Despite knowing that a brace would put him level with Kodai Tanaka at the top of the SPL scoring charts, Boris would give up the chance of the one-on-one opportunity and he played it across to Taufik who scored into the open goal. Credit to Zeko once again who played a magnificent through ball to Boris to start the move. 5-0.
To the delight of The Stand, Boris’s unselfishness would be rewarded just 2 minutes later when Yasir’s brilliant through ball would be finished by the Montenegrin hotshot, which put him on 28 goals for the season and once again level with Kodai. What a sight to see, as the fans erupted for the sixth goal of the night. 6-0.
With the result in the bag, Gavin decided to bring on some of our debuting Young Bucks for some much deserved minutes. 19-year old Amir Mirza was first to come on for his first appearance of the season, on the back of some impressive performances with our U-21s. Goalkeeper Danial Iliya and winger Caelan Cheong also came on, with the latter making his SPL debut at only 16 years of age. Tampines is a team that swears by the adage, ‘if you are old enough, you are good enough’, and Amir would prove just that on the 82nd minute.
Zeko started another attacking move with a precise through ball down the left flank to find Boris in space. A well-placed cross into the mixer would then be sent in, and Amir was on hand to tuck the ball home at the back post for his first ever SPL goal. What a truly special moment for the Young Buck, as well as the coaching staff who have seen these players grow in stature and make their presence known in Singapore’s top league. 7-0, and a fitting end to a magical night of football.
At the end of the 90 minutes, it was 7 goals and now 7 points ahead of our nearest rivals in 4th position, which encapsulates a great weekend for our Stags. Head Coach Gavin looked for a response after our less-than-convincing win against the Young Lions two weeks ago, and he got just that.
“In terms of the result, it was a very good response. I am happy for them, but in the first half we weren’t very good. Because maybe we were too disconnected and that was something we addressed in the second half. Zeko came on and helped us get behind the backline much more often, and that really helped.
He added on the selfless nature of Boris, as well as the team as a whole on the night :
“One of the most pleasing parts of the performance was how the team played for each other. Boris’s actions are a very good expression on what the team is - setting up teammates who are in better positions, and the young ones coming on to work hard for each other, so that was very good and a big part of what we have been trying to build since the pre-season. I’m pleased to see that today.”
We simply had to include first-time goalscorer Amir Mirza, and the feeling of getting his first professional goal in Stags colours:
“It was wonderful. I didn’t expect to come on the pitch, let alone to score, but I just told myself to give my best. Like what Coach (Gavin) has always said, I have to be ready for every game. (The 7-0 scoreline) was crazy, but I think for today we really wanted to finish off the game and keep our third place standing safe, so from the scoreline I think you can tell we really wanted that.”
We also managed to catch with Singapore Premier League debutant, Caelan, and speak to him about his maiden experience on the pitch :
“It felt great because Gavin was my coach previously at JSSL Singapore, so I always wanted to play under him, and it was definitely a great opportunity for me to play under him at such a high level. I am very grateful for this opportunity. 7-0 is a very big scoreline, and I will keep on going and working hard, and hopefully I can get in on the next game and make an impact.”
Lastly we have Danial Illiya who replaced Syazwan Buhari in goal for the last 10 minutes:
“It’s a stepping stone for me to be given the opportunity to prove myself, and to show I am capable of playing amongst the big boys, but credit to Syaz and the team because they did great and as a result the youngsters were given a chance to come on. Good 3 points and a clean sheet.” Syazwan chimed in as well - “100% record!”
To The Stand, we hope you enjoyed that away day! We are into the home stretch of the season and your support means the absolute world to us. Whether it has been the SPL, U-21 or U-17 games, your presence is always felt and appreciated by all our players and staff.
Amir : I just want to say thank you to the fans. They always show their support no matter whether it is for a younger player or the regular first teamers, and we really appreciate it.
Danial : Thank you for always being behind us no matter the results. Even for the U-21 and U-17 games, you are always there and football is honestly nothing without the fans.
With all that being said, thank you once again to The Stand and we will see you again when we meet the Sailors for a marquee clash at Our Tampines Hub next week!