Jamil breaks Jaguars hearts with stoppage-time goal
A goal by veteran midfielder Jamil Ali in the third minute of stoppage time was needed to ensure Tampines Rovers maintained their perfect record at their new Clementi Stadium home.
The Stags defeated previous occupants Tanjong Pagar United 2-1 in an open match on Thursday, with both sides having chances to take all three points after Jaguars midfielder Takaya Kawanabe cancelled out a first-half deficit.
Ismadi Mukhtar had given Tampines the lead when he cut in from the wing to fire a brilliant shot straight into the corner of the net, but the excellent Kawanabe responded on 59 minutes.
The game looked headed for a draw as both teams were unable to find the back of the net in the remaining 30 minutes of regulation time, but Jamil popped up with the dagger late on to give the defending champions sole claim of the spoils.
This was a painful defeat for Terry Pathmanathan’s men, it being was their fourth in a row, despite their valiant performance against a side considered far superior to them.
They now have just one point from the first five matches, though Pathmanathan was much happier with his players’ work this time than he had been in recent weeks.
“It was a very good game, a very close game,” he said.
“The players tried very hard, and I’m pleased with the way they showed themselves today.
“It is really sad to end the game in that manner, but I can’t fault the players for their effort. We had our chances to bury the game, but that’s how football goes.
“It was a very good game,” emphasised the former national skipper.
For Tampines, the three points lift them to fourth in the league standings, two points from the summit spot occupied by Home United following their 2-1 victory in a simultaneous fixture.
The result also continues the Stags’ road to top form after their slow start to the season.
But it could have so easily been a different story, as they wasted numerous opportunities to find the back of the net in the first half. As early as the first minute, Davor Piskor drew Fajar Sarib into making a save with a curler from the outside.
The Tanjong Pagar goalkeeper was kept busy throughout the night, and he was evidently up to the job, as Aleksandar Duric learnt when he was swiftly closed down while receiving a glorious chance in the middle of the area.
Tampines rained shots on Fajar’s goal, Jamil sending an effort into the side netting and Gligor Gligorov shooting over from distance.
For much of the first 45 minutes, the Stags dominated as their opponents were largely kept in their own half, limited to shots from distance and dead-ball situations.
Aliff Shafaein, playing against his former teammates, was far too eager to score in the tenth minute when he blazed a shot over, while Kawanabe’s free kick some time later was off target.
Duric had a couple of chances of note at the other end, most memorably on 34 minutes, when he received a pass from Piskor inside the area but could do no more than hit the side netting from a tight-angled shot following an attempt to round Fajar.
The pressure finally paid off for Tampines five minutes later, when Ismadi exchanged passes with his teammates the left before cutting into the middle and sending a powerful shot past Fajar.
Tanjong Pagar had a great chance to reply at the stroke of half-time, but Aliff’s cross that flashed across goal was just beyond the reach of Lee Joo Sang.
So the score at the interval stood at 1-0, but the Stags knew that they should have been up by at least two or three, considering the chances and possession they had.
Instead, Clementi’s newest residents seemed to take their foot off the pedal a little in the second half, and that allowed Tanjong Pagar to grow in confidence.
It was not long before Tampines were punished for their lack of composure in front of goal, when they failed to clear a corner and Lee set Kawanabe up for the latter’s second goal of the season.
That aided the visitors in further raising their confidence, and in fact they were the ones with the best opportunities to take the lead towards the end of the match.
Most of those chances fell Lee’s way, and he had a shot from outside the box saved on 70 minutes before a brave solo effort three minutes later was blazed over from a great position.
Kawanabe could have given Tanjong Pagar the lead too on 83 minutes, but his effort, after he was set up by Lee, was saved.
Fajar also did his part to keep the scores level when he kept out Jamil’s shot in regulation, but the midfielder would eventually have the last laugh when he rifled the ball home off a Duric pass in stoppage time.
Despite the defeat, Tanjong Pagar can take heart in their courageous performance, for pushing the defending champions all the way is not easy feat.
That said, Pathmanathan felt that had his team displayed this sort of performance in previous matches, they would not be on a four-game losing streak.
“To stretch Tampines all the way, I’m quite pleased,” commented the Jaguars coach.
“But if they had done this for the last three games, we would have got something from at least one match.
“I don’t want this performance to be a one-off game, I don’t want to play well then go downstream again. We have to stop the drop and get into winning ways.”
Tampines head coach Steven Tan, meanwhile, was a relieved man when the final whistle came.
“Credit to the boys for fighting until the end, but we should have killed the game in the first half,” said the diminutive Tan.
“If you don’t get the second goal, you give the opponent confidence to come back, and that’s exactly what happened.
“The decision-making and the final ball was just poor in the first half. I told them if you don’t finish your chances they will punish us and true to my words, they did.
“The Tanjong Pagar goalkeeper did really well, I think; the ball was looking for him! But we are quite lucky to get a goal in injury time; that got us the three points, and that’s what most important.”