Sunday’s Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League game at Clementi Stadium was a cagey affair, with both teams showing signs of fatigue after playing tough games the previous Wednesday night
Tampines possibly had the harder of the AFC Cup matches, having travelled to Shah Alam Stadium to secure a 3-3 draw against Selangor in their AFC Cup game, while Balestier came through a draining 1-1 draw on a sodden Toa Payoh Stadium pitch against Courts Young Lions, who later learned that the result would not stand and that the Tigers would take a 3-0 victory instead, due to player ineligibility in the Young Lions’ ranks.
Tampines coach, Nenad Bacina, elected to stand down his marquee signing, Martin Wagner and had Jamil Ali on from the start.
“Martin might play the next game,” Bacina explained.
“I am trying to protect him [from criticism, as much as anything else]. He is finding it difficult to communicate with the other players and with me and I am taking full responsibility [for his progress, or otherwise].
“We have to play three games in seven days, so he may play against the Warriors [on Thursday at Choa Chu Kang Stadium].
The Stags coach also revealed that Jamil Ali's injury status is still uncertain and that keeping his players rotated and fresh was a priority.
"When Jamil Ali took a knock he came off right away and we are not sure yet about the nature of the injury so we played it safe by sending on Ismadi (Mukhtar) who played very well in the last game and had a good game tonight after he went on," he added.
“We wanted to keep a clean sheet and keep things tight at the back this evening, but we also wanted to have the freshest players for these three matches, so to win this match was very important, as we are looking at three points from every game during this period.
“I only have two left-footed players in my squad and this was why I sent on Aleks (Aleksandar Duric) when I did. I wanted him to patrol down the left and to use his left-footed skills, which he did and I’m glad it worked for us.
Balestier coach, Darren Stewart, was already without the suspended Zulkiffli Hassim and knew that star signing, Qui Li, had not trained since the last match and could offer to play only for up to half an hour if needed.
The return of Zaiful Nizam proved a big success, the goalkeeper making some crucial saves and bringing praise in equal measure from both coaches.
“Zaiful made a few very big saves tonight and made life very difficult for us,” said Bacina of the man who tested the limits of his charges.
Balestier coach Darren Stewart added: “We knew Zaiful was ready as he has been in fine form at training and I had no hesitation in playing him tonight."
“Unfortunately Qiu Li could not start, but Patrick Paran did very well in his first start for us. He has been coming off the bench and playing in that wide position all season and he didn’t let us down at all.
“If I have any regrets about losing the game it may be in sending on Yusiskandar Yusop [for the final five minutes in place of Poh Yi Feng]. I wanted to try and deal with Duric, using my defender’s extra height.
Duric proved more dangerous out wide, as things turned out. His unstoppable run late in the game leading to the eventual game winner from Shahdan Sulaiman.
“Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t (work out)," said Stewart of Yusiskandar's introduction.
"All I can say really is that I’m glad Duric only came on for the last ten minutes or we could have been beaten by even more and I really wish I had him in my team!"