SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Tampines Rovers 2
Albirex Niigata 0
Tampines Rovers' composure amid chaos could be key in landing them the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title after they beat defending champions Albirex Niigata 2-0 at Our Tampines Hub yesterday.
The three points meant they consolidated third place with 36 points from 20 games, two behind leaders Brunei DPMM, who have a game in hand, and Hougang United, who beat Young Lions 4-2 in another match at Jalan Besar yesterday.
Barely a minute had elapsed when the Stags were awarded a free kick right on the edge of the area after Taufik Suparno was bundled over by Sota Sugiyama.
Up stepped Shahdan Sulaiman to curl the ball around the wall and into the bottom corner for an early lead.
The Tampines faithful could be forgiven for thinking Christmas had come early when their team were awarded a 20th-minute penalty for what looked like a legal challenge by Kaishu Yamazaki on Yasir Hanapi.
After an elaborate run-up, Jordan Webb slammed his spot kick against the bar. But the Canadian attacker made amends five minutes later with a cool finish after a give-and-go with Shahdan.
Tampines then saw out the match with their disciplined defence preventing Albirex from registering a single shot on target.
A pleased Tampines coach Gavin Lee said: "We wanted to start well, and we did that. Credit to Shahdan for being so calm with his finish, as well as Jordan, who apologised for his penalty miss and made up for it by scoring our second.
"When we were 2-0 up, we didn't want to take as many risks as we usually do, now that we are so close to the finish line. We demanded a defensive masterclass and I'm very happy and proud we produced our best defensive display this season.
"We lost to Geylang mid-week but the key is how we rebounded, and I hope today's win gives us that last push towards winning the title."
Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi was left to rue his side's lack of cutting edge. The White Swans are fourth with 31 points from 18 games, but have scored just 27 goals, the second-lowest in the nine-team league.
He said: "It is regrettable we conceded so early, but from an attacking point of view, it is very disappointing we couldn't score to try and find a way back into the game.
"The title race is difficult for us right now, but until it is mathematically impossible, our target to win the title does not change."
In yesterday's other match, sixth-placed Geylang International edged bottom side Balestier Khalsa 4-3 with Fareez Farhan and Amy Recha netting for the Eagles in added time.