Duric slays Rams for house-warming rout
Ko Po Hui
Aleksandar Duric led the way in smashing the myth of Woodlands Wellington’s 2012 revival as Tampines Rovers overran them 4-0 in their first home game at Clementi Stadium on Friday.
The league’s most prolific goalscorer of all time took just 29 seconds to scrap home from close range, before adding two more goals either side of a headed strike by his vice-captain Fahrudin Mustafic.
Much faith was placed in the visiting Rams after their heartbreaking defeat to Albirex Niigata (Singapore) last week, when a last-minute goal got past goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar in a moment of miscommunication with his centreback Fabien Lewis.
But the custodian was firmly thrust into the spotlight barely a minute into the game when he failed to smother a ball floated in from Tampines winger Imran Sahib on the right, allowing Duric to score for only the first time in all competitions this season.
It was the perfect way for the Stags to start off life at their new home at Clementi, where they will be based while the Tampines area goes through some redevelopment.
For Ahmadulhaq, however, it was the beginning of a nightmare evening, and if the conceding the first goal was a case of misfortune, the second on 24 minutes was plain horrifying.
Clearing a harmless-looking ball going into the box might be considered routine, but the 30-year-old missed the ball, which bounced right in front of Duric for an easy finish into an empty net.
“After the second goal, everything just fell apart, simple as that.” opined Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo afterwards.
“We always ask for consistency, but as human beings these things do happen to us. Everyone makes mistakes.
“Even machines break down sometimes. I just want to stress that we win as a team and lose a team, we would not point finger at anyone.”
Teo was also full of praise for the winners.
“Tampines, as we all know, are a good side,” noted the former youth coach.
“It’s just that it took them a little longer than other teams to come into the game this year.”
While those two early goals might have sealed the game long before the half-hour mark, the Rams earned themselves some credit even in the minutes in-between by creating some chances.
One such move in the tenth minute started from inside their half, as Hussein Akil advanced and laid a pass on to Moon Soon Ho, who proceeded to square past a porous Stags backline to Guntur Djafril.
Had Guntur placed his shot into the net rather than inches wide, the game would have taken on a very different look.
But once Singapore international Mustafic made it 3-0 on 36 minutes with a pointblank header off Gligor Gligorov’s corner, there was no question which way the three points would fall.
The reigning league champions had overcome their tepid start, which had seen them falter early on both at home and in Asia.
And to mark an auspicious beginning to their time in Clementi, Duric got his third goal – and the team’s fourth – just five minutes after the break.
It was a good old-fashioned centre forward’s finish too, although Lewis was arguably at fault for playing the 41-year-old onside as Ahmadulhaq was rendered helpless.
“It’s always great to start with a home win in our new home,” said Duric afterwards.
“It was a good win, but it wasn’t easy, as Woodlands were in good form for the last three games. But after the first goal in the first minute, I think we settled into the game and that made things easier for us.
“We needed this win badly to lift our team spirit, and everyone hopes to bring back the way Tampines played for the last few years. The next few games will be crucial, very crucial.”
Stags coach Steven Tan echoed his skipper’s comments.
“The first goal more or less relaxed the players, while the second goal was more like a cushion that allowed us to play when Woodlands had to push men out,” said the former national winger.
When asked how the players found motivation after losing to Hong Kong side Kitchee SC just three days ago, Tan placed emphasis on the team’s self-belief.
“In Hong Kong, we played well and just couldn’t have the luck to score,” he said.
“It’s just about belief; I told my players that they can score. And once they started to score, everything will come into place.”
Tan was however concerned that, despite having fewer games to play in the S.League due to the return to a two-round format, fixture congestion continues to be an issue for his team.
“I think the league schedule is not being fair to us,” he said plainly.
“We travelled away (to Hong Kong on Sunday) and the league had us play on Friday, while Home United were at home (on Wednesday) and were then scheduled to play this Sunday.
“This doesn’t help our cause, as we are representing Singapore football. The relevant authorities declined our request to reschedule this fixture for some reason, but they could be fairer.”