Despite being thrown a lifeline by Warriors’ defeat of Albirex Niigata (S) 24 hours earlier, Tampines Rovers were unable to take any advantage after losing 1-0 against Brunei DPMM on Saturday.
Azwan Ali’s early winner, which came via a mistake from Tampines, was enough to settle the contest for Brunei DPMM.
The defeat sees Tampines still trailing Albirex by seven points at the top of the table, and with just three matches left in the season, the Stags will need the White Swans to lose all of their remaining matches to stand a chance of lifting the title.
The manner of the defeat prompted an outburst from a fuming Tampines coach Akbar Nawas at the post-match press conference when he addressed the media.
“I’m very angry [right now],” Akbar said. “If in front of goal we cannot score, whoever is the coach, you cannot do anything. What to say? I don’t know.
“We kicked ourselves in the foot. That’s what I’ve been telling the players – don’t be complacent and don’t think you can get away with making one mistake.
“My players need to know even from the very first minute we must concentrate and be focused. It’s not acceptable [to not do so]. If any players think it’s acceptable, then it’s very wrong.”
“We have only ourselves to blame.”
Things got off to the worst possible start for the Stags, as just four minutes into the game they conceded the only goal of the match.
Jufri Taha played a loose pass straight to Rafael Ramazotti deep inside Tampines’ half, and the Brazilian surged down the left unchallenged before picking out Azwan for a tap-in.
From then on, it was all about chasing the game for Tampines, but they struggled to craft out clear-cut opportunities in the attacking third.
When they did, they either failed to find the target, or were unable to find a way past DPMM goalkeeper Wardun Yussof.
Jordan Webb was denied by Wardun in the 13th minute after Jermaine Pennant played a superb ball to release him, before the latter smashed the ball harmlessly over just a minute later after a short corner.
A good run midway through the first half saw the left-back with a shooting chance, but like Pennant, he was not able to keep his shot down.
On the stroke of half-time, Webb had a superb opportunity after meeting Izzdin Shafiq’s cross at the far post, only to get his angles all wrong and plant his header wide.
Seven minutes after the restart, the Stags had perhaps their best chance of the match when Sufian Anuar reacted first to the loose ball following a good save from Wardun to stop Izzdin’s long-range effort.
However, the striker, starting in place of the suspended Billy Mehmet, could only hit the ball straight at Wardun, before Hafiz Sujad’s follow up was deflected over.
They could count themselves unlucky to have not equalised in the 69th minute though, when Yasir Hanapi turned his marker brilliantly and fired at goal, only for the ball to come off the woodwork.
From there, the Wasps launched the counter-attack and struck the posts twice through Ramazotti and Azwan Ali, before Hendra Azam blasted the ball way over.
As the game went on however, it became increasingly apparent that it was not to be the Stags night.
Akbar’s last throw of the dice was to send club captain Fahrudin Mustafic on as an auxillary striker and despite winning a few headers in the attacking third, the Stags were not able to capitalise on that, summarising their woeful night.
Despite the defeat, Tampines are not giving up on the title just yet, according to Akbar, who is hoping for both Home United and Hougang United, Albirex’s next opponents, to do them a favour.
He said: “If Albirex lose two games and if we win our games, it’s down to the last (where Tampines will face Albirex). As long as it’s not mathematically impossible, it’s not over.
“We just have to put our heads up, look at what went wrong and how we can better. Hopefully they can lose their two games; Home and Hougang are both tough opponents.”
As for DPMM coach Steve Kean, he believes that his side showed their defensive strengths against the Stags, and was hopeful of still catching Tampines to finish the season in second.
“We defended really well, in the end Tampines had nothing to lose and threw everything forward but we dealt with it,” Kean said.
“The most pleasing aspect was from the front. The attackers showed the desire not to give up and defended from the front.
“When I said I was going for second a few weeks ago, everybody laughed. Why not second? We’ve only got one game left and with the form we are in, I’m sure Balestier wouldn’t want to play against us.
"So we can win it.”
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments