SINGAPORE - While tactics unfolded, tackles flew in and through passes were attempted on the pitch, officials from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) were busy on the sidelines doing their calculations.
The stakes could not be higher in the final weekend of the inaugural Singapore Premier League season.
For the 2,500 fans packed at Our Tampines Hub, Tampines Rovers and Home United had to fight to finish second in the table, $80,000 in prize money for the runner-up spot, silver medals and a place in the qualifiers for the elite Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League next year.
And it was the Protectors who won big after drawing 1-1 following a frenetic battle from start to finish.
Home ended the season second with 43 points, 23 behind champions Albirex Niigata, who beat Warriors FC 2-1 last night and became the first club in the S-League/SPL era to finish an entire season unbeaten after notching 21 wins and three draws.
Even with runners-up spot settled, there is still a matter of deciding who receives the bronze medals as DPMM, on 38 points, can snatch third place from Tampines (40 points) and $40,000 cash booty, if they beat the Young Lions on Tuesday for their game in hand.
For the Stags, it was a case of what might have been. While scoring chances were at a premium in the early stages, the game exploded into life in the 70th minute when Home centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim brought down Japanese winger Ryutaro Megumi inside the box. Khairul Amri drilled his penalty low to open the scoring.
The visitors refused to cave in and within four minutes, forward Shahril Ishak was alert to a flick on and was unmarked as he stabbed home the equaliser.
Home could have won as Korean forward Song Ui-young missed twice in stoppage time. He first hit the post in a one-on-one chance and then saw his penalty saved by Syazwan Buhari.
With this result, it marked a successful campaign for Home coach Aidil Sharin, who also led his men to the AFC Cup Asean Zone title and face Albirex in the second leg of the Singapore Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
Home lost the first leg 3-2.
"Credit must go to all the players. Without them, our journey would not have gone this far," Aidil said. "When Tampines scored, we were nervous for a moment. But with our team spirit, we were not afraid. We worked so hard for this and we didn't come here just to sit back."
His German counterpart Jurgen Raab was rueful and said: "When you are so close to the end, you must try to bring it to a good ending but we lack that quality in the team to keep the 1-0 result, control the opponent and try to score another goal. That equaliser was so easy."
In yesterday's other games, Balestier Khalsa and DPMM drew 0-0 at Toa Payoh Stadium while Hougang United drew 1-1 against Geylang International as the Cheetahs finished bottom of the nine-team standings with 12 points.