SINGAPORE - Tempers flared as Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Lion City Sailors restored their five-point lead at the top of the table after a fiery 2-1 win over Tampines Rovers at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday night (July 24).
An injury-time winner by defender Pedro Henrique helped the Sailors return to winning ways – they had drawn their previous two games – ahead of the top-of-the-table clash with second-placed Albirex Niigata on Friday.
But the thrilling match was marred by unsavoury scenes near the end, with both sets of coaches and substitutes getting involved in altercations.
In the final minutes of the game, with the score level at 1-1 and as a skirmish involving players from both teams was happening at the touchline near the bench, Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon appeared to headbutt Tampines assistant coach Mustafic Fahrudin.
Fahrudin, a former Singapore midfielder, was seen clutching his face after the incident.
And while matters appeared to have cooled down after the game and both Kim and Fahrudin shook hands, tension soon built again with both sets of players and officials engaging in shoving matches.
Fahrudin was also seen squaring up to Kim on the Sailors bench, with eyewitnesses alleging he grabbed the former South Korea striker by the neck.
The madness at the end prompted the Football Association of Singapore to issue a statement saying it was aware of the incidents that occurred after the game, and would await the relevant reports from the match commissioner and review video footage in an internal investigation.
Tampines head coach Gavin Lee said: “There was some disgraceful behaviour that triggered everything (but) it is not my duty to address that, it is not on us.
We managed to calm down and play the game but things kicked off at the end again... But again, it is for the (league) management and for the authorities to look into.”
Kim, meanwhile, said: “I want to apologise to the fans. Obviously in sports, emotions can get a bit heated but still, it’s up to us to control it.
“We apologise to the fans for showing them such things... It got a bit heated between the coaching staff and some players, but we will make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
He added that he wanted to “emphasise that I went to apologise and make up with them” at the end of the game.
The post-game incidents marred a thrilling match where Sailors drew first blood in the 30th minute through Song Ui-young’s header off Shahdan Sulaiman’s freekick.
They then came close to adding a second but Brazilian star Diego Lopes was denied first by Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari and then defender Shuya Yamashita, either side of half time.
The Sailors were punished for these misses when Tampines substitute Taufik Suparno broke clear of the Sailors defence and coolly slid the ball under goalkeeper Hassan Sunny in the 77th minute to equalise.
But they grabbed a winner deep into added time when Henrique stormed forward from defence on a counter-attack and blasted a cross by substitute Maxime Lestienne home.
Despite the late drama, Sailors coach Kim will see the win as a job well done.
He left a number of big names on the bench – Lestienne, Kim Shin-wook and Gabriel Quak among them – ostensibly to keep them wrapped in cotton wool for Friday’s top-of-the-table clash with Albirex.
And while the Sailors were made to sweat and he had to summon Lestienne and Shin-wook off the bench to turn the tide, the last-gasp victory means they head into Friday’s clash with a healthy lead still intact.
For Tampines, they can take heart from pushing the league leaders all the way, although that might be scant consolation considering their choppy form continues.
They have won just once in five matches since returning from Kuala Lumpur, where they lost both games in their AFC Cup group stage.