SINGAPORE - Tampines Rovers arguably have one foot in the Komoco Motors Singapore Cup final, after securing a 2-0 win over Geylang International in the first leg of their semi-final tie at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (Oct 26).
But, suggest that notion to Stags coach Gavin Lee and he would be quick to brush you off.
Referencing how the likes of Barcelona have squandered three-goal leads in the Champions League in the past two seasons, the 29-year-old said: "Such a scoreline is never safe. As proven in other competitions, such first-leg advantages can be overturned.
"We have mature and sensible players and we cannot think that we are through."
Lee's wariness could stem from how his side should have put Geylang to the sword and the semi-final tie to bed, as the Eagles were missing key players Shawal Anuar and Christopher van Huizen through injury, as well as midfielder Firdaus Kasman due to suspension.
Geylang coach Noor Ali was forced to reshuffle his pack and start with a back five at Our Tampines Hub, and the lack of a link man between defence and attack meant they were toothless for the entire first half as Tampines dominated possession.
When Shahdan Sulaiman tucked away a seventh-minute penalty after Anders Aplin had brought Ryutaro Megumi down illegally, a massacre looked on the cards, but the Eagles managed to limit the damage.
Noor Ali's tweak to a back four provided Geylang an extra man in midfield, which made a world of difference as they looked livelier and the likelier to score the next goal.
Geylang forward Fareez Farhan was their brightest spark and it was his through ball that led to Amy Recha's one-on-one just before the hour mark, which Syazwan Buhari blocked.
Noor Ariff then seized on Daniel Bennett's scuffed clearance but could only stab straight at Syazwan in the 77th minute.
The Eagles were made to pay for their profligacy when Yasir Hanapi raced clear two minutes later, beat the onrushing Zainol Gulam and covering Aplin to slot into an empty net.
Lee admitted his side were aided by the absence of the Geylang attackers, and added: "Along with Firdaus, Chris and Shawal are their best players who can give any defence problems, and their loss represented a chance we need to take.
"Geylang are one of the best in the league in terms of putting opponents in difficult positions because of their pressing, so we will take the 2-0, and I'm happy with our third clean sheet in a row."
Noor Ali refused to throw in the towel, and while he is keeping his fingers crossed for his stars to make a swift return, he urged his players to give it a final heave in Wednesday's second leg.
He said: "I'm disappointed with the easy goals we conceded. They had only two chances and scored both.
"We were much better with our attacking movement in the second half, and gave Tampines a better fight, even though we still lacked bite in the attacking third.
"We need to stay positive because we still have a second leg to fight for and I believe we can score at least twice to turn things around."
In the other semi-final first-leg match on Saturday, Brunei DPMM beat Warriors FC 1-0 thanks to Azwan Ali's first-half strike.