Home United eased past Tanjong Pagar United on Wednesday night at Queenstown Stadium, with a single, scrambled goal enough to earn them a 1-0 win and thus stretch their advantage over third-placed Albirex Niigata to five points, the latter with two games left to play.
Tanjong Pagar’s own hopes of finishing higher than sixth place on the S.League ladder slumped following this result, with fifth spot now their best hope.
The Jaguars were without a number of important players and had little to choose from on their bench, with injuries to Ismael Benahmed, Hafiz Nor and John Wilkinson restricting coach Patrick Vallee’s options considerably.
Still, it needed a scrambled finish from makeshift forward Juma’at Jantan to get them their winner, a strike that defied desperate attempts by Tanjong Pagar defenders to hook the ball clear.
Early on, the game was featuring mostly free-kicks and corners as each team gave as good as they had. But tight marking and sound organisation meant that neither side could gain a territorial edge, or create many chances.
Jaguars goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson, a saviour many times this season already, was once again in good touch.
Masrezwan Masturi forced a good near-post save from the Frenchman in the 22nd minute. Seven minutes later Jordan Webb got to the left byline and whipped in a low cross that Hafiz Rahim steered narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
With some success down the flanks, Home maintained that approach and it yielded dividends in the 39th minute.
This time Hafiz got to the left byline and his cross, after the Herisson and his defenders had come out unsuccessfully to meet it, became inviting for a quartet of Protectors in a packed six-yard box.
Herisson and his defenders rushed back to try and avert any danger, but they could not recover in time and Juma’at got there just in time to bundle the ball over the line.
K. Vikraman almost pulled his side level in the 45th minute but saw his effort blocked after Asraf Rashid’s cross posed problems.
The second half began like the first with corners and free-kicks abounding, the best chance coming from perennial substitute Lee Kwan Woo in the 82nd minute, his powerful effort from wide out well saved.
The game was no classic and many will expect the two sides to serve up something a lot tastier in the Singapore Cup final nine days later.
Tough tackling was the order of the day here, with plenty of cautions handed out by referee Farhad Mohd, some ensuring that certain players will sit out their team’s final S.League match, well-rested for the Cup final.