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We Are Vengeance : Tampines Rovers 2 - 1 Lion City Sailors

To those around Our Tampines Hub, the weather seemed perfect, but unlike others in the vicinity, those in attendance could sense that a different kind of storm was brewing as 5:30pm drew near.

Our Stags were out for blood. Make no mistake, the Lion City Sailors and Tampines Rovers share a heated rivalry - one that continues to evolve with every passing duel on the pitch. And with the appearance of Batman and Robin amongst those in The Stand for the marquee match, it was a no-brainer as to what the theme of this high-profile fixture was - “We Are Vengeance”, a homage to Batman’s famous movie line.

Tensions were high from the previous clash when we narrowly lost 2-1 to the Sailors in the dying embers of the game. For a club like Tampines Rovers, defeat always tastes bitter. Yet, defeat against arch-rivals tastes even more so. Losing again was not an option and it was a day where multiple stakeholders came together to lend their support to Our Stags to ensure that victory was ours.

Our Sports Care partner, Starbalm, was at hand with a special booth for fans to try their range of Sports Care products, as well as prizes for lucky winners to bring home. In addition, we were happy to also see guests from our range of valued partners who were here to lend their much-needed support as well.

As Our Stags walked onto the pitch to the appropriately Batman-themed hype-reels and music, the fans came in with their own show of support, as they unfurled a large, custom-painted banner featuring, of course, the same subject matter.

Motivated by the buzzing crowd, we took to their positions knowing full well that it was now or never to claim three points against the reigning champions.


The referee blew the first whistle and both sides went to battle.


First Half


As one would expect, both sides began the game with sheer intensity and jostled for possession. Backed fully by The Stand, we gained control of the game and went on the offensive, coming close to gaining the lead a couple of times.


For instance, our rock in the back, Shuya Yamashita, came close to giving Tampines Rovers the lead in the 25th minute when he leapt above his marker to head the ball towards goal. However, his well-hit effort was blocked by Sailors custodian Izwan Mahbud.

Likewise, at the 40th minute, big bad Boris Kopitović easily beat his marker, Anumanthan Kumar, and drove into the penalty box, drilling a powerful shot that seemed destined for goal. However, once again, Izwan somehow managed to absorb the shot as he saved Boris’s strike.

In a tight affair, the first 45 minutes almost felt akin to a cup final, and it certainly held up to its ‘Match Of The Week’ status. The ‘big-match’ feeling oozed with every pass and dribble of the ball, and the fans responded in kind with either cheers or groans.

It wasn’t long after that the referee called the first half to a close, and we headed into the dressing room with our heads held high. The Stags were confident that the second half would be more challenging following the introduction of Sailors substitutes from the bench, but if we stuck to the game plan, the result was ours for the taking.

While The Stand awaited the return of Our Stags, they were treated to a (you guessed it) Batman-related quiz. The emcee of the evening, a familiar face in former Stag, Shannon Stephen, selected four lucky fans to participate in the event. All four fans won a goodie bag courtesy of Starbalm, and as they returned to their seats, the players re-emerged from the tunnel to take to the field once again.


Second Half


After knocking at the Lion City Sailors’ goal for most of the first half, it certainly seemed like we were going to strike first. Thus, it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead in the 55th minute. Capitalizing on a poor pass by substitute Haiqal Pashia, Amirul Haikal whipped a delicious cross to Taufik Suparno. The forward then expertly controlled the ball, beat Anumanthan with some clever footwork and pure grit, and squared it to Boris who easily slotted it past Izwan to break the deadlock. 1-0 to the Stags.

Unfortunately, that lead did not last very long at all. Maxime Lestienne responded with a wonder strike seconds after the restart, as he played a one-two with Adam Swandi, before curling a stunner into the top corner to make it 1-1. Our Stags, however, knew they couldn’t let this goal affect them too much. We still had plenty of time to play for, and drawing onto the lessons of the previous outings, we dug in deep and soldiered on.

Just two minutes later, Tampines earned a free-kick from a dangerous position near the edge of the box. ‘Taking your chances’ has been a common theme this season and, though the familiar faces of Kyoga Nakamura and Boris Kopitović lined up to take the kick, it was Zehrudin Mehmedović who stepped up to the plate. The Serbian Magician responded to Lestienne’s wonder goal with a sensational effort of his own. His unsaveable freekick effort curled past the reach of Izwan and ricocheted off the underside of the cross bar into the back of the net. 2-1, and the lead was restored.

Holding onto a slender lead calls for fresh and dependable legs, and it was certainly needed in this fixture, where our players ran the hard yards to cover each and every blade of turf on the pitch. 19-year-old Ong Yu En was called to action as he replaced Mehmedović in the 66th minute, and the Serbian midfield maestro received a rapturous applause from The Stand as he made his way to his seat. Two minutes later, Firdaus Kasman came in for Taufik Suparno and alongside Yu En, added some steely resolve to the middle of the park.

Some close calls ensued, as neither team looked to back down from the fight. Of note, ‘Big Bad’ Boris had two chances to add to the lead in the game, as well as in the SPL Top Goalscorer race. The more remarkable effort, his curling shot from a free-kick taken at the edge of the penalty area, unfortunately, rattled off the crossbar, having beaten the outstretched arms of Izwan Mahbud.

In the 80th minute, we once again brought on a mix of youth and experience to shoulder this responsibility. In came Singaporean top-flight veteran Irwan Shah, and our sturdy Young Buck Andrew Aw for Amirul Haikal and Irfan Najeeb respectively. With at least 10 minutes left to go, the team were well aware that they needed to give it their all to secure the previously elusive victory.

The Sailors slotted a late goal in the last fixture to claim three points, and Our Stags were not about to let a repeat of that happen again. Our defense quite literally put their bodies on the line against the variety of shots drilled by the reigning league champions. It was a true show of grit and gusto - something that can’t necessarily be bought by dollars and cents.

When the final whistle was blown, Our Tampines Hub erupted in euphoria. As the club anthem of “Yellow” by Coldplay played throughout the stadium, one couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sense of passion on display by fans and players alike - that’s priceless. We may have secured a monumental 7-0 victory against Young Lions the previous week, but given our history with Sailors, this victory tasted that much sweeter.


Reflections


This victory was by no means an easy feat, and that was something that our Head Coach Gavin Lee knows all too well. Despite the various absentees for Lion City Sailors, they still boasted a strong, top-calibre team.


“We knew it was a difficult game coming in,” mentions Gavin. “Even though they had four foreigners absent in the first half, they started the game with a side that consisted of National Team players in every position. In the second half, the foreigners came on, but overall, credit to our boys for not losing focus. They applied what we prepared for.”

Preparations are important, and one player who knows the importance of this is Syed Firdaus Hassan. Having joined us back in February, the Stag has been consistently working hard during training and, consequently, has featured regularly for the team in recent weeks. He explains how this victory was not an overnight success, as Our Stags had put in the hard hours to claim these three points.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win this fixture because we’ve been working very hard these few weeks,” shares Syed Firdaus. “Coach [Gavin Lee] had a game plan to attack our opponents and bring the game to them. That’s exactly what we did today despite the odds and I’m very proud of the work the team has put in today.”


Our towering Montenegrin, who notched his 29th goal of the season and is currently outright leading the scoring charts, wholeheartedly agrees.

“The whole team went in hard for the 50/50 duels, and they left their hearts on the field,” describes Boris. “We played with real hunger and I can’t describe how proud I am of my teammates.”


Everyone in the team has a part to play, and 18-year-old Andrew Aw is no exception. As mentioned earlier, the fullback was brought on to help safeguard our lead for the final 15 minutes, and he reflects on how the overall atmosphere of the game helped boost Our Stags.

“As always, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help the team in such a crucial game, and for the trust that the coaching staff has in me,” explains Andrew. “The fans played a really key role in today’s victory, and we would have been a different team today if it wasn’t for our amazing fanbase.”


“Football is nothing without the fans,” echoes Syed Firdaus. “They were truly our 12th Man and they helped us push past our limits to get the job done.”

We will certainly celebrate our victory this weekend. Yet, our Head Coach is quick to point out that Our Stags cannot afford to rest on their laurels.


“If we are critical of ourselves, we were very good for 95% of the game, but we gave the game to them for the other 5%,” reflects Gavin. “That is something we need to polish up, and so, there’s always room for improvement.”


As Boris reminds us, the season has not ended just yet and Our Stags still have a job to do - clinching a coveted AFC Cup spot.


“Tomorrow is a new day, and with four games left, we need to continuously work hard. I call on all the fans to once again support us for the next game. We need you in this last leg (of fixtures) as we aim to finish the season as strongly as possible.”


We couldn’t agree more. We go again next weekend back Home against Tanjong Pagar United, and sincerely hope to see you once again!


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