SINGAPORE - Tampines Rovers stayed on course to finish second behind Singapore Premier League champions Albirex Niigata, after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (Sept 15).
With two games left, the Stags are level on 39 points with Home United, who beat Hougang United 2-1 at the Hougang Stadium, but are ahead with a superior goal difference of six.
Fourth-placed Brunei DPMM FC beat Warriors FC 2-1 yesterday to go to 34 points, but they have a game in hand over both Tampines and Home. Champions Albirex are on 62 points.
Tampines coach Jurgen Raab was delighted with his charges for getting the job done in the first of what is a three-step climb to secure the runners-up spot.
"At the beginning, you could see that the team were nervous, but we did well to handle the pressure," said the German.
"It's very tight, the situation in the league table. If you make a mistake, you're out. It was important that we got the three points, now we can keep the second position.
"Our last two (league) matches are against DPMM and Home, and this win is the start of a 100-metre run to the finish line."
After initial pressure from Balestier, the Stags took control and defender Madhu Mohana scored what turned out to be the winner, heading in a Yasir Hanapi corner in the 39th minute.
Khairul Amri had several opportunities to put the game to bed for Tampines, but the Singapore international striker squandered them.
The 33-year-old's best chance came at the stroke of half-time, when his looping header off a Madhu punt came off the crossbar.
Balestier looked dangerous on the break, but failed to capitalise on their chances.
Fadli Kamis was guilty of failing to hit the target when he found himself unmarked in the Tampines box in the 52nd minute.
"I'm not happy with the result. If we had scored a goal in the first 15 minutes, it would have been a very different game," said Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic, whose team sit sixth in the table on 26 points.
"We needed some good final passes and crosses. But, unfortunately, we didn't have the individual quality today - we were just second best."
The Stags will next face DPMM away on Saturday (Sept 22), before hosting Home the following week.
Raab is confident that Tampines can see off the challenge of the chasing pair and seal second spot.
He said: "It will be a fight, a struggle, but we are confident."