Sufian Anuar stepped up in the absence of the injured Fazrul Nawaz to help Tampines Rovers to a 2-1 win against Ceres La Salle in their Singapore Cup semi-final first leg tie at Jurong West Stadium.
Ceres La Salle attacker Bienvenido Morejon had scored a quick equaliser in the first half to cancel out Mustafic Fahrudin’s excellent opener, but Tampines Rovers would go into the second leg with a slight edge due to Sufian’s goal just after the break.
We had a couple of misses towards the end and that could have given us breathing space in the second leg
Akbar Nawas’ side got off to a good start, with Mustafic curling home a stupendous free-kick in the 12th minute after Billy Mehmet was brought down 25 yards from goal.
However, Ceres would pull level within five minutes, as Morejon took advantage of some defensive uncertainty from the Stags to go through on goal before slotting beyond the onrushing Izwan Mahbud.
There was not much action for the rest of the first half, but Tampines managed to retake the lead four minutes after the restart with Sufian reacting the quickest in the box to divert home Izzdin Shafiq’s long shot.
Ceres almost levelled matters just three minutes later when Patrick Reichelt was brought down in the box by Irwan Shah, but Morejon’s resulting penalty was well saved by Izwan.
The visitors kept up the pressure, with Jason Sabio’s header from Jeffrey Christiaens’ free kick whistling just past the post on 68 minutes.
Tampines star man Jermaine Pennant was then introduced into the fray for the last 15 minutes and made a substantial impact with a couple of good passes.
You have a very good league here in Singapore, but the refereeing – I call it a shame
One was those was a delightful back-heel into the path of Webb, who strode through on goal but prodded wide with just Ceres goalkeeper Louie Casas to beat.
The Stags then went down to 10 men in injury time when Shakir Hamzah was sent off for a second bookable offence, but held out for the win to go into Wednesday’s second leg in the driving seat.
The result did not exactly please Akbar, who wanted his side to win by more goals.
“Most definitely I’m disappointed; I wanted more than a 2-1 margin today,” said the 41-year-old. “We had a couple of misses towards the end and that could have given us breathing space in the second leg.
“The second leg will be really tough because I will be missing Farra (Mustafic), Shakir and Yasir (Hanapi). Right now I only have 10 outfield players plus two goalkeepers; the rest are Prime League players. Let’s see if Jermaine can start.”
Meanwhile, a disappointed Ceres technical director Ali Go felt that his side were affected by some unjust decisions from referee Farhad Mohd.
“The players gave everything they had against a very strong opponent in Tampines,” he said at the post-match press conference. “You have a very good league here in Singapore and we try our best to go to the same level, but the refereeing – I call it a shame.
“It’s too much and you cannot show it like that. There were many one-sided calls – (for example) we made one foul and got a yellow card, they made consecutive fouls but no yellow card.
“We’re going to make it into a video with the fouls one by one, show it to the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) and let them decide for themselves. We had a new coach (Risto Vidakovic) from Spain; he had coached eight seasons in La Liga and he have never seen anything like that.
“Now it’s important for the players to recover and we have three players coming back for suspension for Wednesday’s game.”