SAFFC 2-3 Tampines Rovers: Last-gasp Jamil goal edges Stags closer to title
Jamil Ali proved to be the match-winner for defending champions Tampines Rovers as his 92nd-minute goal aided his side to all three points at the Jalan Besar Stadium
|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Kenneth Tan
They trailed twice against SAFFC in this affair, but as the cliche goes - the hallmark of a championship-winning team is that they win games despite not playing well.
Indeed, reigning champions Tampines Rovers proved this as they came back twice to draw level and eventually scored the winning goal in the dying moments of the game.
The first half was such an uninspiring affair that no one expected such a barnstorming end to the game, with the Stags just about edging the five-goal thriller,
Wild long-range efforts were fired over while the passing play from both sides was too scruffy to create decent scoring chances.
Both sides only had a solitary opening each. Aleksandar Duric toe-poked it straight to Shahril Jantan on 25 minutes after Daniel Bennett lost the ball in defence, while a close-range Mislav Karoglan shot that looked destined for goal was well-blocked by Ismadi Mukhtar eight minutes later.
However the story of the second 45 minutes was a total contrast to the first.
Duric had two chances within a minute just after the restart, however he failed to take both - firing wide after cutting inside Zulfadli Zainal Abidin while having his close-range shot palmed away by Shahril.
His team was to pay for his profligacy on 52 minutes as SAFFC went down the other end to score the opening goal.
A Noh Rahman cross picked out an unmarked Aliff Shafaein inside the box whose outside-foot shot was saved by Sasa Dreven, before the rebound fell to Shimpei Sakurada who coolly cut inside his man to slot the ball low past the young custodian.
Stung by the goal, Tay Peng Kee's men released the pedals and duly levelled matters within nine minutes.
The credit should go to Ahmad Latiff who kept his head up seconds after having his volley parried by Shahril, and duly reaped the rewards as Ismadi's deep cross from the loose ball created space for him to direct his header past the SAFFC custodian.
Tay sensed a revival on the cards as he soon threw Noh Alam Shah into the fray along with Jamil. That meant Tampines had at least four attackers on the field but they were continued to be frustrated by their luck in front of goal.
It was proving to be a bad evening for Duric, judging by his next two opportunities.
Firstly his 'goal' on 76 minutes via a Alam Shah knockdown was ruled out by the linesman's flag before a superbly-executed shot from a tight angle four minutes later smacked right against the post and into Shahril's grateful arms.
Coincidental or not - just like the first Warriors goal, his scuffed opportunities were the prelude to disaster at the other end.
Committing too many men forward meant they were always going to be outnumbered on the opposition's counter. Aliff was totally left unnoticed again on 84 minutes to meet a Tatsuro Inui cross and despite Dreven getting a touch on his headed effort, SAFFC substitute Fazrul Nawaz was on hand to tap home gleefully from three yards out.
With the chips down, this was the time to stand up and be counted - thus up stepped an unlikely source in Benoit Croissant.
With a loose ball falling innocuously into his path about 25-yards from the Warriors goal three minutes later, the French stopper took no invitations to lash home a thunderous full volley that left Shahril grasping for thin air.
With another three minutes of injury time to be played out, SAFFC coach Richard Bok knew he had to shore up his defence as he prepared Bah Mamadou to come on for the exhausted Aliff.
However the ball was kept relentlessly in play and before that change could happen, his side was blown away in the second minute of the added time.
A superb Latiff ball picked out the run of Jamil, and the alert substitute did the rest as he strode past the onrushing challenge of Shahril before slotting the ball into an empty net despite the despairing late lunge by Marin Vidosevic.
The dimunitive attacker tore off his shirt in celebration and the Stags' fans sang 'campeones' after the final whistle as they await a second consecutive league championship.
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