Football: Tanjong Pagar win eight-goal thriller to stay top of Singapore Premier League

Blake Ricciuto of Tanjong Pagar United celebrating his goal against Balestier Khalsa. The Jaguars had a 2-0 lead but trailed 3-2 at half-time before they blew their opponents away with three second-half goals. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - One thing nobody can accuse this Tanjong Pagar United team of not having, is fight.

And the Jaguars showcased their grit in spades when they defeated Balestier Khalsa 5-3 at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Saturday (March 12) to maintain their position as surprise Singapore Premier League (SPL) leader after three rounds.

On a rain-soaked evening, Tanjong Pagar raced into a 2-0 lead but then trailed 3-2 at half-time, before they blew their opponents away with three second-half goals.

Khairul Amri opened the scoring in the 10th minute when he intercepted a poor pass by Balestier shot-stopper Rudy Khairullah and sent a shot from distance that looped over the goalkeeper's head and into goal.

Blake Ricciuto doubled the Jaguars' lead eight minutes later when he stole in to head home Aqhari Abdullah's cross.

But Balestier's trio of Japanese attackers dragged them back into the game with three goals in nine minutes.

Kuraba Kondo fired home a low shot in the 23rd minute, before headers, first from Ryoya Taniguchi in the 27th minute and then from Shuhei Hoshino five minutes later swung the contest in their favour at half-time.

The turnaround might have left many teams crestfallen but Tanjong Pagar head coach Hasrin Jailani, a battling central midfielder for the Lions in his playing days, and team manager Noh Alam Shah, infamously never short of passion as a player, have built a team in their image and the Jaguars emerged from the break full of fire.

It took them just five minutes to pull level when Croatian midfielder Mirko Sugic opened his account for the club with an acrobatic effort that bulged the net. The in-form Sugic then grabbed his second on the hour mark, sweeping home after a melee at a corner kick.

Reo Nishiguchi added the exclamation point with a long-range strike eight minutes before the end that zipped under Rudy's despairing dive.

In the evening's other match, Young Lions fell to a 5-0 loss to Albirex Niigata at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Analysis

If Tanjong Pagar's grit and never say die attitude is something they can leverage on this season, the eight-goal thriller at Toa Payoh Stadium also highlighted Balestier's problems.

The Tigers were lost at sea in the opening 20 minutes, and while they showed flashes of good play and fought back with three goals, their slow start haunted them again when they conceded twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

They had also trailed 2-0 at half-time to Tampines Rovers in their first game - although they drew 2-2 - before crumbling to a 6-0 defeat by Albirex in their second match.

Akbar Nawas' charges have to wake up quicker in games to avoid giving themselves too much to do.

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