SINGAPORE - Tampines Rovers dug deep to edge out Tanjong Pagar United 4-3 in their Singapore Premier League (SPL) match at the Jurong East Stadium on Saturday (Aug 13).
The Stags had trailed by two goals before taking the lead, only to be pegged back after conceding a penalty to leave the game at 3-3. But defender Shuya Yamashita was their hero when he popped up 12 minutes before the end to send a thumping header home for the winner.
The result helped Tampines pull to within one point of the third-placed Tanjong Pagar, with a game in hand. Finishing third could come with qualification to the AFC Cup continental competition next season.
Things had looked so promising for Tanjong Pagar. Shodai Nishikawa opened the scoring after just two minutes when he slotted home from close range. Their lead was doubled in the 36th minute when Reo Nishiguchi converted a penalty.
But the Stags rallied with two quickfire goals. The SPL's leading scorer Boris Kopitovic stabbed home in the 40th minute, before Chris van Huizen equalised two minutes later with a long-range effort that took a deflection off Nishikawa.
Tampines carried the momentum into the second half and went in front in the 53rd minute when Yasir Hanapi finished under the onrushing Zharfan Rohaizad.
But Nishiguchi grabbed his second from the night - also from the penalty spot - in the 67th minute when Irwan Shah shoved Khairul Nizam in the box.
The Tampines players were aggrieved by the call as referee Hilmi Fuad did not originally award the spot-kick.
Their frustrations, however, disappeared 11 minutes later when Yamashita stole in to nod home powerfully off Yasir's precise cross.
In Saturday's other match, league leaders Lion City Sailors started life without departed coach Kim Do-hoon on an emphatic note, thrashing bottom side Young Lions 10-1.
A Kim Shin-wook hat-trick, and braces by Maxime Lestienne, Gabriel Quak and Song Ui-young, as well as a strike from Hami Syahin, helped them to the handsome win at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
It was the first nine-goal margin of a victory since, coincidentally, Tampines beat Tanjong Pagar 9-0 in 2004, and the first to feature a team scoring double digits since Geylang United (now Geylang International) thumped the Young Lions 10-2 in 2003.
The game was a treat for the spectators, with both teams enjoying good spells throughout the game.
While Tampines celebrate a hard-fought victory, Tanjong Pagar will be kicking themselves.
They were the far better team in the first 30 minutes, but a lapse in concentration at the back - from a defence that was otherwise good - proved costly as Tampines struck twice in two minutes.
The Jaguars even appeared to regain momentum near the end after equalising, with Tampines players looking rattled. But they were again let down by poor marking when Yamashita stole in for the winner.
The loss was the third in a row for Tanjong Pagar and head coach Hasrin Jailani, while preaching calm before the game, needs to now urgently find a solution to his side's back pains.
He has to get them grinding out results the way they did in the first half of the year, if they want to hang on to third spot and Asian football next season.