The defending champions took a massive step towards retaining their title as victory left them needing only one more win to seal it
Tampines Rovers moved one step closer to the S.League title with a 3-1 win over a fighting Tanjong Pagar United at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
Two goals in the opening 10 minutes gave Tampines a meaningful start to the game, but as play moved on Tanjong Pagar slowly clawed their way back and went close to equalising, only to see the Stags draw clear with a third goal minutes from the end.
Tampines had the good fortune to hold off a stirring finish by the Jaguars to go on and win 3-1, after a superb penalty save from goalkeeper Andre Martins four minutes from time.
Martins made amends for a push on K. Vikraman that had yielded the Stags’ opponents a penalty kick in the 25th minute, which French midfielder Kamel Ramdani converted nicely.
Ramdani steered the ball just inside the left-hand upright to keep his Tanjong Pagar side in the contest, after errors by his team-mates had seen an understrength Jaguars concede twice early on.
Tampines were more or less at full strength, while Tanjong Pagar had two key players suspended in Monsef Zerka and Zahid Ahmad, and three others out injured.
Soon after the start, Jamil Ali nearly put his team in front after he had accelerated down the left following smart work by Aleksandar Duric. Jamil got to the near post, but the tight angle beat him as his shot found the side-netting three minutes into the match.
But a mere four minutes later, Tampines won a freekick out wide on the right, which was swept over towards a crowded goalmouth by Shahdan Sulaiman.
Rising among a packed line of players, Japanese defender Seiji Kaneko launched himself at the ball and powered home a brave header, beating Aurelien Herisson all the way.
Tanjong Pagar looked shell-shocked as their less experienced players found it hard to contain a super-confident Tampines during their opening assault.
Sure enough, Tampines went two up just two minutes later, a mistake by Jaguars defenders Hanafi Salleh and Azhar Ahmad allowing Jamil to find the net from close-range.
Ruzaini Zainal had sent Imran Sahib through down the right where the two Tanjong Pagar defenders failed to tidy up in front of Imran, who flicked the ball past the pair into the path of Jamil for a simple finish.
Tanjong Pagar had a mountain to climb but they fought back manfully, Ismael Benahmed almost pulling a goal back in the 11th minute.
The powerfully-built striker seized possession close to goal after a defender had allowed the ball to bounce behind him, but the Frenchman’s shot was claimed by Martins.
Vikraman almost scored following a corner in the 15th minute that saw referee Jansen Foo bring the promising move to an end, after a corner from Hafiz Nor had been nodded on at the near post by Anthony Aymard.
But the assistant had spotted Vikraman lurking on the line behind the goalkeeper and raised his flag.
It was a different story in the 23rd minute though when Martins was spotted pushing Vikraman over as a corner came over from the left via Hafiz again.
Ramdani made no mistake form the penalty spot to make it 2-1 and keep the Jaguars in the game.
A chance to draw level came in the 87th minute after Ahmad Latiff was brought down was foiled as Ramdani could not repeat his earlier successful penalty conversion, with Martins guessing correctly the second time.
Two minutes later, Tampines stormed away to extend their lead to 3-1, substitute Vitor Ladeiras slamming the ball past Herisson and in off the post to seal victory for his team.