Home United 1
Tampines Rovers 0
With regular forwards Billy Mehmet and Fazrul Nawaz out, Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas decided to shoehorn veteran midfielder Fahrudin Mustafic up front against Home United.
Alas, for all his talents, a striker Mustafic is not. His ineffective cameo up front, which lasted all of 62 minutes before striker Sufian Anuar was brought on, summed up the Stags' poor outing as they lost 1-0 to Home at Bishan Stadium yesterday.
It was Tampines' second straight defeat in the S-League and a debilitating blow to their title aspirations.
With four games left, they are second in the S-League, four points behind leaders Albirex Niigata who have a game in hand.
Akbar said: "We had no choice, we didn't have anybody else. Sufian was playing on the right most of the time. Tactically it didn't work out but Fara didn't do anything wrong. It was my decision to play him there."
Mustafic was supposed to emulate the 1.89m-tall Mehmet, who is excellent in the air and strong on the ball.
Unfortunately, save for one header after 20 minutes that went just wide, he did not offer much penetration or link-up play.
Home's winner came after 74 minutes when the lively Shamil Sharif, who would have impressed a watching national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy in the stands, drilled home a loose ball from inside the area.
The Stags went close on a couple of occasions. Jordan Webb, who can delight and frustrate in equal measure, saw his shot cannon off the crossbar in the 63rd minute.
Marquee signing Jermaine Pennant's free kick two minutes from the end beat Home United goalkeeper Eko Pradana - who was making his debut - but bounced agonisingly off the upright.
Home coach Aidil Sharin said: "We were very lucky to be honest. They had their fair share of chances. But I can't take anything away from the (team) who gave everything tonight."
Akbar said the lacklustre display could be down to the fact that they also have one eye on Wednesday's Asian Football Confederation Cup quarter-final against India's Bengaluru FC, and said the league scheduling did not help.
Asked about his side's title chances, Akbar said: "I hope every team can turn up and play 120 per cent against Albirex like they always do against us."