SPL leaders Tampines defeat Sailors 4-3 to open up four-point lead, Latest Football News - The New Paper

SPL leaders Tampines defeat Sailors 4-3 to open up four-point lead

SINGAPORE – The two week international break did little to disrupt Tampines Rovers’ momentum as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders delivered a commanding performance to defeat second-placed Lion City Sailors 4-3 on Friday at Our Tampines Hub.

With the win, Tampines, still undefeated after six games, opened up a four-point gap to their title rivals.

Stags head coach Gavin Lee made only one change from their last match – a 1-0 win against Albirex Niigata – starting former Sailors midfielder Saifullah Akbar in place of Ong Yu En, while Sailors head coach Risto Vidakovic gave forward Shawal Anuar his first start as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

It took just eight minutes for the away side to break the deadlock, via a counterattack with a series of lightning quick passes. Belgian forward Maxime Lestienne did the hard work, releasing a perfectly weighted ground cross that was swept home by Shawal.

But Tampines refused to give up as they continued to pile on the pressure and 12 minutes later, they earned their reward.

A long diagonal ball found Faris Ramli, who skilfully beat his marker and delivered a cross that was parried by Sailors goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad straight into the path of Tampines captain Yasir Hanapi.

Yasir made no mistake and Tampines used their momentum to take the lead on the half hour mark after Kyoga Nakamura precisely rifled a long distance strike into the bottom corner past an outstretched Zharfan.

The half-time interval did no favours for the Sailors as the away side relinquished the ball cheaply once more in the 50th minute and substitute Joel Chew, who was stretched off injured moments after, slipped in for Faris who handed Tampines a 3-1 lead.

While the Sailors were handed a lifeline six minutes later, when Tampines left-back Glenn Kweh turned Lestienne’s cross into his own net, the home side restored their two-goal cushion with a header from substitute Taufik Suparno.

With the result beyond doubt, the Sailors brought on 15-year-old Nathan Mao, as the teenager became the youngest-ever debutant in SPL history, eclipsing the record held by Young Lions defender Raoul Suhaimi (15 years 239 days).

Sailors defender Manuel Lopez’s consolation goal sparked hopes for a comeback in stoppage time but Tampines resiliently held on for the win.

Lee said: “It’s a long journey (to win the SPL). We got to be as consistent as we can in terms of practice to get the performances we want. There’s a lot we can do better... And the way we started both halves, we need to look beyond the result and scrutinise things we can do better.

Added Vidakovic: “It was a complicated game... We have to keep working and try to improve to do much better than we did today. Everyone has to look at himself in the mirror and keep going as a team.

“Many players are still injured and we have had to adjust many things. We are going to get a new striker and then we are going to be better.”


In an earlier interview, Vidakovic said his team may not be entertaining at times because they have to be practical to earn victories. That was the mentality they showed against Tampines, sitting in a compact 4-4-1-1 defensive block, happy to cede possession to the home side.

While the Sailors conceded 14 times in a four-game losing spell from September to October 2022 under interim coach Luka Lalic, now, they are more pragmatic but still a work in progress.

They were tentative in possession and failed to use their attacking threats in wide areas when they could.

Unlike Tampines, who were tactically organised under a long-term coach Gavin Lee, the Sailors – playing only their sixth league game under Vidakovic – still need time to gel.

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