Five-star Tampines come from behind to maul Hougang

Tampines Rovers ended their three-game losing streak in style, thrashing Hougang United 5-1 at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday night. 

The Stags’ mauling of the Cheetahs meant they are now one point above Home United, who beat Brunei DPMM 4-1 at Bandar Seri Begawan on Friday, in the battle for second place.

But it was Hougang who drew first blood. In the fourth minute, a Zulfahmi Arifin free kick found its way to Atsushi Shirota near the touch-line, and the defender sent the ball across the six-yard box for Fareez Farhan to head home.

The North-east side’s lead lasted for only seven minutes though, after 20-year-old Lionel Tan allegedly handled a lofted ball from Fazrul Nawaz in the penalty box.

Shahdan Sulaiman stepped up to the spot and calmly slotted home the equalizer past a helpless Ridhuan Barudin.

The Stags’ mauling of the Cheetahs meant they are now one point above Home United, who beat Brunei DPMM 4-1 at Bandar Seri Begawan on Friday, in the battle for second place.

Tampines then went 2-1 up just before the break when Hougang defenders tried to build up play from the back after a goal kick and ended up losing the ball to Ryutaro Megumi. The electric Japanese winger fed the ball to an oncoming Irwan Shah, who had the easiest of jobs to tap home from close range.

The second half started with Hougang pressing high up in the opposition half, eager to find the equaliser.

However, they would go another goal down in the 53rd minute, when Croatian forward Ivan Dzoni was felled by Shirota in the box.

Tampines’ designated spot-kick taker Shahdan duly converted the penalty to increase the Stags’ lead to 3-1.

Hougang had gotten off to a good start...

The Stags then found their fourth goal on 65 minutes, with a cross in by right wing-back Ismadi Mukhtar flying past Hougang’s defence line before Megumi side-footed past the outstretched Ridhuan.

The final nail in Hougang’s coffin came in the dying minutes of the game. Irwan Shah’s half-cleared cross fell into the path of substitute Fazli Ayob, who sent a finesse shot to Ridhuan’s left to complete the rout.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Tampines head coach Jurgen Raab was delighted with his side’s performance.

The German said: “Our defence was the key today. We didn't give Hougang the space or time to play. We made them play the long ball, we won so many long balls today. They tried with the high pressure in the first half and the early goal (set us back). But we were well organised and very aggressive and I am very happy.”

Our defence was the key today. We didn't give Hougang the space or time to play. We made them play the long ball, we won so many long balls today.

- Tampines coach Raab

He also said that “after this game, I am very confident” of finishing second this season.

In the Hougang camp, however, Philippe Aw expressed his disappointment at what his charges put up.

“We started well, but we conceded five soft goals,” said the 39-year-old. “Overall defensively we were poor. For a team like us to concede five today it's very poor. For so long in the season we did it as a team, but today we didn't. That's the reason we lost 5-1 today.”

The Tampines test was Hougang’s first of six matches this month, in what will be a test of the depth of their squad and stamina.

Aw said: “This was not the start we wanted for. We wanted a positive one. We wanted to build a momentum towards the Singapore cup semi-finals. But I have confidence in our players and I trust their abilities.”

Photos: S.League