Star-studded Tampines fail to shine against Young Lions
It was initially billed as a battle of men against boys with title favourites Tampines Rovers tipped to overwhelm the inexperienced Garena Young Lions.
But on Sunday evening at the Jalan Besar Stadium the Stags flattered to deceive, labouring to a 2-1 victory.
A crowd of 2,200 had gathered to witness the Stags come out all guns blazing, especially with the exciting triumvirate of Jordan Webb, Jermaine Pennant and Billy Mehmet named in the starting line-up.
Instead, the watching audience had to settle for a slow and tepid start to the affair.
In fact, Tampines were so off the boil that they had to wait till the half hour mark to register their first shot on target.
Christopher Van Huizen’s in-swinging corner was met by Shakir Hamzah but the defender’s header was palmed away by goalkeeper Benjamin Bertrand.
Shakir held his head in his hands in a clear sign of despair but soon enough, dejection turned into jubilation just before the half-time whistle.
Van Huizen’s corner was first met by Fabian Kwok, who could only steer his effort onto the post but Shakir popped up to drill his effort into the back of the net to give his side the lead.
Four minutes after the break, Tampines doubled their advantage after Pennant’s initial effort from inside the box was parried onto Van Huizen’s path by Bertrand.
With an empty net beckoning, the winger calmly slotted the ball to make it 2-0 on the night.
While it was not a game that Tampines dominated, chances were still at a premium for the hosts.
But against the run of play, Young Lions were awarded a penalty when Muhaimin Suhaimi’s cross was inadvertently handled by Shakir in the box in the 61st minute.
Captain Fareez Farhan tucked the spot-kick away with relative ease past Izwan Mahbud for what was his fourth goal of the season.
While the deficit was reduced to just one, the Stags were never really put to the test in the remaining minutes
Tampines coach V.Sundramoorthy was satisfied with the win and he did not mind that his side did not register a win by an even bigger margin.
He said: “When the big teams play small teams, it is going to be difficult.”
“But three points is three points and we should move on to the next game.
“We needed to rotate our squad because some players had to play two games with the national team (against Myanmar and Afghanistan). So far the rotation has been working well for us and we are somehow getting the victories.”
Meanwhile, Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse praised his side for running the Stags close.
“I did not see a difference between Young Lions and Tampines today,” assessed Hesse.
“The coaching staff and I are very proud of our young players.
“We conceded just before half-time and that is the worst time to concede a goal. We must learn but this is the first time that I am seeing progress from the team.
“The players want to progress and want to learn and when you have this mentality, I am sure we can succeed.”
Photo: Weixiang Lim / FFT