Defending S.League champions Tampines Rovers cruised to a 3-0 win over Geylang International at the Clementi Stadium on Sunday to move level on points with leaders DPMM FC.
In a game that they dominated from start to finish, the Stags took the lead thanks to Miljan Mrdakovic’s clinical finish in the 16th minute, before Luis Closa opened his account for the club to double their tally on the half-hour mark.
Three minutes before the break, the result was put beyond doubt when Aleksandar Duric added a third for the hosts, although they could – and perhaps should – have won by a bigger margin after wasting a host of chances in the second half.
Nonetheless, Tampines coach Salim Moin is likely to be pleased with the result, especially after Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat to Nay Pyi Taw in the AFC Cup.
They certainly began the game looking like a side determined to get back to winning ways and created their first chance after just four minutes; Mrdakovic breaking free inside the area and drilling in a shot that forced Joey Sim into a fine save.
But in the 16th minute, the Serbian striker was not to be denied as he notched his fourth goal of the campaign – racing onto Shahdan Sulaiman’s through-ball before sending an emphatic strike into the back of the net.
Three minutes later, Mdrakovic nearly turned provider when he played a neat ball through to Duric, but the normally-deadly veteran could only fire straight at Sim on his trusty left foot.
The Eagles goalkeeper was then called into action again in the 21st minute when he showed clean hands to gather a low 20-yard drive from Closa, but it was his mistake that led to the Paraguayan doubling Tampines’ advantage nine minutes later.
There appeared to be little danger when Sim raced off his line to gather a ball just inside his box but he inexplicably spilled it and allowed it to roll into the path of Closa, who made no mistake in guiding his shot into the unguarded net.
And in the 42nd game, the contest was all but over after Duric struck a third for the hosts; making no mistake this time around as he raced into the box and send a right-footed strike in off the post despite Sim’s best efforts.
The chances continued to fall for the Stags after the break but only a combination of poor finishing and heroics from the opposition custodian prevented them from winning by a greater margin.
Sim did well in the 49th minute to deny Duric in a one-on-one situation after Geylang had been hit on the counter, before Mrdakovic could only send a free header from four yards out into the ground and over the bar when he had looked destined to score.
A minute after the hour mark, Sim made another smart save to deny the rampaging Shaiful Esah from point-blank range; the ex-Singapore international doing his best to save his side’s blushes.
As Tampines looked increasingly content to play out the remainder of the match, it did allow the visitors the chance to pull one back and they did show more initiative in the attacking third.
However, Joaquin Lopez could only meet Ridhuan Muhammad’s excellent cross with a diving header that sailed over in the 70th minute, before the youngster was denied by Hyrulnizam Juma’at five minutes later after the Stags keeper produced a flying save to keep out his ferocious left-footed half-volley.
With another AFC Cup game against Pune coming up on Wednesday, Salim used the opportunity to rest a number of his key players and substitute Roberto Martinez, who replaced Mrdakovic with 15 minutes remaining, could have made a name for himself in the closing stages.
First, he raced through on goal in the 80th minute after Jamil Ali had flicked Luis Closa’s through-ball into his path, only to see his effort come back off the bar after he had chipped the onrushing Sim.
Five minutes later, he once again broke free inside the area but, from a tight angle, opted to go straight for goal and blazed over the bar.
Nonetheless, apart from their wasteful ways in front of goal, it was an excellent display from Tampines and one that will give them much confidence ahead of Wednesday’s must-win continental encounter.
Tampines Rovers: Hyrulnizam Juma’at, Abdil Qaiyyim, Kunihiro Yamashita (Jufri Taha 29’), Norihiro Kawakami, Jamil Fahrudin Mustafic, Jamil Ali, Shahdan Sulaiman, Luis Closa, Shaiful Esah, Miljan Mrdakovic (Roberto Martinez 75’), Aleksandar Duric (Ismadi Mukhtar 67’).
Geylang International: Joey Sim, Wyldan Wisam, Siddiq Durimi, Joaquin Lopez, Hamqaamal Shah (Aliff Shafaein 56’), Hafiz Nor (Mustaqim Manzur 56’), Shah Hirul, Franco Chivilo, Jalal, Ridhuan Muhammad (Hyder Ismail 78’), Leonel Felice.