The defending champions had to rely on two late strikes to see off the Young Lions in a game expected to have been a walk in the park for them
|FROM CLEMENTI STADIUM
By En Lim
Veteran striker Aleksandar Duric came off the bench to inspire Tampines Rovers to a second successive victory on Thursday night at Clementi Stadium, as the defending champions beat off a plucky Courts Young Lions side.
The Stags dominated the game right from the first whistle, but failed to score as they faced a stubborn Young Lions backline that was marshalled to perfection by captain Al-Qassimy Rahman.
The youngster kept Singapore international Khairul Amri quiet throughout the first half and it was only on 17 minutes that Amri managed his first shot on goal, bamboozling the Young Lions defence only to see his shot tipped over by goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah.
However, the best chance of the half fell to the Young Lions.
An impressive back-flick by Ignatius Ang found teammate Sherif El-Masri in space but the Canadian striker made no further headway as he was brought down by Tampines leftback Shaiful Esah in a last-ditch tackle.
El-Masri picked himself up to drive in a freekick that looked destined for goal, only for Stags custodian Sasa Dreven to make an excellent save.
Tampines midfielder Martin Wagner then had his goal disallowed after Rudy was fouled just before the Argentinian had got to the ball.
The Stags came out raring to go in the second half and almost took the lead after just three minutes through an expertly-taken freekick by Shaiful that hit the crossbar and bounced out.
The crossbar denied Tampines again on the hour mark when a beautifully flighted freekick by Shahdan Sulaiman hit the same spot on the woodwork before bouncing into the arms of a grateful Rudy.
That proved to be the last piece of action for Shahdan as he was replaced by evergreen striker Aleksandar Duric, and his presence made a crucial difference as he drilled home the opening goal on 78 minutes to give Tampines the lead.
The Stags then doubled their lead through captain Mustafic Fahrudin with five minutes to go as his clinically taken goal nestled in the bottom corner of the net to secure the three points.
Despite the loss, Aide Iskandar and his Young Lions can leave the stadium with their heads held high after an excellent showing. They next face a stiff test against Brunei DPMM on March 7, while Tampines will take a break from S.League action as they head into two back-to-back AFC Cup games.