Kopitovic scores again as Tampines beat Balestier 2-1 to stay second in SPL
For all the drama and unpredictability of this Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, there has been one constant so far - when Boris Kopitovic finds the net, Tampines Rovers just cannot be beaten.
On Sunday (May 8), the 27-year-old Montenegrin scored for the sixth game in a row to help the Stags come from behind and beat an in-form Balestier Khalsa 2-1 at Our Tampines Hub.
Kopitovic has now grabbed 12 goals from seven of his club's eight matches, failing to net only in the 1-0 defeat by leaders Lion City Sailors.
With the win, Tampines remain second with 15 points from eight games, four behind the Sailors, while the Tigers stay fifth with 10 points.
Even without their Covid-positive striker Shuhei Hoshino, the visitors opened the scoring after 15 minutes. Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari could only parry Darren Teh's low cross into the danger area and Gareth Low mopped up the loose ball to become his team's first local scorer.
In contrast, Tampines also demonstrated their own resilience as their foreign attacking trio came to the fore for the equaliser, as Kopitovic notched his fifth assist by knocking on Kyoga Nakamura's chip for Zehrudin Mehmedovic to thump in an emphatic right-footed volley in the 32nd minute.
The hosts then lost skipper Yasir Hanapi after he sustained a cut to his face from Ensar Bruncevic's stray arm early in the second half, with the midfielder replaced by Andrew Aw Yong.
Kopitovic proved to be the decider once again just before the hour mark.
Ammirul Emmran was adjudged to have fouled him just outside the box, and Kopitovic dusted himself to slot in a low free-kick below the jumping Balestier wall for the winner.
The 1.89-metre striker struck the post from a tight angle, before having another shot saved by Rudy Khairullah, but the damage was already done.
Tempers frayed late on as Balestier defender Delwinder Singh was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession, the latter for shrugging off Mehmedovic, as Tampines hung on for the three points.
While Tampines celebrate another win and Kopitovic masterclass, their meticulous coach Gavin Lee will no doubt be concerned about his defence, which has now gone nine matches without managing to keep a clean sheet.
The Stags managed six shutouts in 14 games to finish second in 2020, and just three in 21 matches as they slipped to fourth last season.
While Kopitovic's goals are certainly important as they continue to push the Sailors, defence wins titles, and Lee and his team will have to produce a solution soon if they are to last the distance in this four-round championship.