SPL 2022: Tampines Rovers 2-4 Hougang United

Hougang United keep AFC Cup hopes alive with topsy-turvy 4-2 win over Tampines Rovers

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Singapore, 30 July 2022 - A Boris Kopitovic’s brace was insufficient for Tampines Rovers, as Kristijian Krajcek’s brace alongside Kaishu Yamazaki and Shawal Anuar goals seal an all-important victory for Hougang United.


With two late goals, Hougang have seized control of the race for AFC Cup qualification with an enthralling 4-2 victory over Tampines Rovers on Saturday evening at Our Tampines Hub.


As a result, the Cheetahs surged into fourth-place in the league standings, one point ahead of Geylang International and two ahead of Tampines (now in sixth-place) who still have a game in hand to play. The Cheetahs also reduced the gap to third-placed Tanjong Pagar United to five points, with just 10 matches to play.


Tanjong Pagar were resoundingly beaten by Geylang 5-0 in the concurrent fixture, and now have a battle on their hands to secure the AFC Cup qualification spot – awarded to the second-best placed local team in the league – the Jaguars currently occupy.


Tampines head coach Gavin Lee started forward Taufik Suparno in place of Serbian playmaker Zehrudin Mehmedovic – absent from the matchday squad with a knock – as captain Yasir Hanapi was dropped into a deeper midfield role sticking with the same 3-5-2 system.

Hougang manager Clement Teo gave 17-year-old goalkeeper Aizil Yazid a debut start, while Hafiz Sujad came in at left-back for Jordan Vestering as the Cheetahs went with a 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Kaishu Yamazaki and Fabian Kwok in a double-pivot.


A slow-paced start was gradually brought to life on the half hour mark when a poor touch from Tampines defender Ryaan Sanizal in his own half was capitalised upon by Hougang’s Shawal Anuar.


The ball was rolled towards Hougang forward Pedro Bortoluzo, who got the better of Stags defender Shuya Yamashita in a one-versus-one duel, allowing Kristijian Krajcek to roll the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to give Hougang the lead.


Tampines would eventually get their equaliser on the 38th minute mark, after talisman Boris Kopitovic connected on the half-volley perfectly with Kyoga Nakamura’s looping cross towards the far post. It was the Montenegrin’s 19th goal of the season, bringing him level with Albirex’s Kodai Tanaka atop the league scoring charts.


Moments later, Stags midfielder Firdaus Kasman was handed a gilt-edged opportunity after Hougang defender Anders Aplin lost the ball right on the edge of the penalty box. Yet, the former Singapore international saw his tame effort brilliantly saved by Hougang debutant Aizil Yazid to keep the scores level heading into the half-time break.


Ten minutes after the restart, Tampines momentarily got the go-ahead goal courtesy of a perfectly-threaded through ball from Kyoga Nakamura. Yasir Hanapi latched onto the pass, squaring for Kopitovic to sweep home into an empty net for his 20th goal of the season.

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Hougang would flamboyantly restore parity once more just two minutes later, after midfielder Kaishu Yamazaki fired a bullet of a shot straight into the top corner of the net leaving Syazwan Buhari rooted to the spot.


Drama would ensue thereafter, as Tampines’ Taufik Suparno dove in with a reckless two-footed challenge on Bortoluzo, but referee Hilmi Fuad opted only to show a yellow card.


From a corner-kick in the 79th minute, Hougang would again restore their advantage in a match of many twists and turns. Krajcek’s low, driven set-piece escaped the first defender and was turned into the net by a lurking Shawal Anuar at the near post – his third consecutive goal in as many matches.


Krajcek would then have the final decisive moment of the game, firing a loose-ball in the penalty box past Syazwan’s reach to give the Cheetahs an unassailable two-goal cushion.


That would be the final action of the match, as Hougang came away with another invaluable three points following a victory by the same scoreline in the same fixture just 17 days prior.


Hougang coach Clement Teo said after the win: “Teamwork plays a very big part. The players believe in the tactical aspect of what we have shown them in the past week.”

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Speaking about making an attacking change in the second half [Amy Recha for Fabian Kwok] when the scores were still tied at 2-2, Clement said: “Our plan was to cut-off passing lanes to Boris Kopitovic. Either Kaishu (Yamazaki) or Kiki (Krajcek) would do the job. Fabian (Kwok) did a fantastic job in the first-half, but he hasn’t been playing regularly.”


“It’s a switch which we felt at that point we didn’t have much of a choice as Kiki was penetrating very well on the left-hand side. But this change instead gave Kiki more space in the middle when he had possession and moved the ball forward. It’s something that we didn’t expect actually,” he added.


Coach Clement Teo also mentioned midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin would be ruled out for another four weeks, and that Shafiq Ghani could be in the lineup next weekend.


Tampines head coach Gavin Lee spoke following his side’s defeat: “I think up till 2-2, the performance was quite decent. After that, our brain state was not positive enough to continue maintaining our level of performance and that was the biggest issue.”


Coach Gavin Lee also remained coy about expectations of AFC Cup qualification.


“I don’t think we are looking that far. We should take it one game at a time to get better in that sense,” he said.

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Writer’s Assessment


Tampines switched to a three-man defence following a 4-2 defeat to Tanjong Pagar in May, as manager Gavin Lee aimed to achieve more stability in possession. Yet the Stags’ biggest shortfall lies in the absence of a quality holding midfielder able to screen the defence and yet have the ability to retain the ball under high-pressure situations.


Kyoga Nakamura was a stand-out performer in a deep midfield role today, consistently progressing the ball forward and acting as a bridge between defence and attack, but Nakamura’s technical ability could have been more useful in the final third; further up the pitch.


Coach Gavin however said about Nakamura: “Kyoga is capable of doing both (playing as an offensive and defensive midfielder) but he’s got a lot more success deeper than higher up.”


Tampines have only kept one clean sheet out of the 17 league matches they have played this season.


The central-defensive trio of Irfan Najeeb, Shuya Yamashita, and Ryaan Sanizal have now started two consecutive league games together – this defensive combination was only used once previously in five matches due to fitful injuries – which can help create a more cohesive defence despite Sanizal’s error today.


There is only so much coach Gavin can do to get the most out of a razor-thin and inexperienced squad. Tampines have outlined their commitment to the future by handing out unprecedented five-year contracts and signing a host of young players to supplement key areas in the squad.


The Stags faithful will have to be patient for results to show, as coach Gavin is silently spearheading a shift in philosophy at Tampines Rovers in his trademark unassuming way.


Hougang turned their season around after reverting to a four-man defence following a humbling 5-0 defeat to Albirex in June.


However, losing Singapore international Zulfahmi Arifin to injury has been a big blow in midfield, as Hougang remain vulnerable in the defensive phase. The Cheetahs were unable to close out a one-goal lead against Geylang, as the Eagles were able to break-down Hougang’s 4-5-1 defensive block to score two late goals.


Hougang’s attack has also been predictable – progression of the ball has been slightly too flank-oriented – as they struggle to get the ball into areas of the pitch where quality chances can be created.


Coach Clement Teo and assistant Firdaus Kassim have transformed Hougang’s footballing model from a reactive-based counter-attacking system into a possession-based system where the focus is on using the ball to move opposition players around – creating spaces for forwards to attack.


Though the journey has been far from smooth, Hougang’s uptake in form has proven there is some merit to this new philosophy. As the local club with arguably the most resources in the league besides the Sailors, this could be the most viable route for Hougang to sustainably challenge for the title in the seasons to come.


AIA Singapore Premier League 2022

Other Match Week 18 Results


Albirex Niigata 4-2 Lion City Sailors Fri, 29 July 2022, Jurong East Stadium


Tanjong Pagar United 0-5 Geylang International Sat, 30 July 2022, Jurong East Stadium


Balestier Khalsa vs Young Lions Sun, 31 July 2022, Toa Payoh Stadium


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