Boris Kopitovic’s brace seals three points for Gavin Lee’s unconvincing Stags, who trailed 2-1 up till Ahmad Syahir’s red card in the 55th minute
Tampines Rovers striker Boris Kopitovic celebrates with Stags fans at Our Tampines Hub after his winning goal in the eastern derby. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
Singapore, 3 April 2022 - A late goal by Boris Kopitovic helped a stuttering Tampines Rovers seal a 3-2 come from behind victory against fierce rivals Geylang International, with the Eagles reduced to 10-men at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (2 April) evening.
The Eastern Derby lived up to its reputation, producing wonder goals and bookings galore including a red card in a breathless 90-minute encounter which was delayed by an hour due to activation of the Lightning Warning System.
The Stags overcame early jitters to secure an important 3 points in the AIA Singapore Premier League, with both teams tied at four points apiece after three games this season, and both raring to seek an early season advantage in the league standings.
Geylang International's Sime Zuzul was a constant thorn in the Tampines Rovers' side. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
Tampines manager Gavin Lee gave Syed Firdaus Hassan his first start of the season in place of Ong Yu En in midfield, whilst Eagles head coach Noor Ali recalled Ahmad Syahir for defender Abdil Qaiyyim.
After a fortnight, Tampines saw some rust creep into their near-perfect performance when they trounced Hougang 7-1 last match week. The Stags never looked settled in possession and struggled to string consecutive passes together from kick-off.
It took just nine minutes for Geylang to open the scoring. Croatian striker Sime Zuzul latched onto a perfectly-weighted through ball from Vincent Bezecourt before rolling a right-footed effort straight into the bottom corner for his second goal of the season.
Tampines Rovers' Christopher James Van Huizen celebrates his equaliser against his former club Geylang International in a feisty Eastern Derby. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
The Eagles supporters were barely finished waxing lyrical with chants of “Zuzul’s on fire, your defence is terrified” to the tune of the 1996 hit “Freed from Desire” before Tampines struck back ruthlessly.
Having trouble controlling a dinked pass from goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, Geylang defender Faizal Roslan lost control of the ball in the penalty box before appearing to have brought down Boris Kopitovic.
Referee Andrea Verocino pointed to the spot without hesitation and Kopitovic made no mistake to level the score.
On Eagles' Wings: Joy for Geylang International, who celebrate wonder kid Khairul Hairie's goal which gave them the lead on 30 minutes. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
Geylang were set-up to hit on the counter-attack and their flank-oriented attacking style finally paid dividends on the half-hour mark.
Left-back Ahmad Syahir’s deft cut-back for Hazzuwan Halim was cleared off the line, but the ball fell kindly into Khairul Hairie’s path. The 21-year-old stopped the ball on the edge of the box with an exquisite touch, before unleashing a spectacular curler into the top corner.
Tampines’ frustrations caused tensions to rise when captain Yasir Hanapi aggressively shoved Fadli Kamis to take a quick free-kick, earning himself a yellow card in the process.
Close Quarters: Geylang's Hazzuwan Halim (left) looking to get the beter of Taufik Suparno of Tampines Rovers as Irwan Shah looks on. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
The Eagles continued soaring with strong support from the home crowd and nearly gave themselves a cushion after the restart when Bezecourt’s effort in the six-yard box was cleared off the line.
However, in the 55th minute, Geylang were soon made to feel the impact of an unpredictable derby game when Ahmad Syahir was sent his marching orders in the space of 63 seconds for two late tackles on Mehmedovic and Christopher van Huizen.
It was the fourth red card dished out in the last six league outings between the two sides.
Tampines Rovers' playmaker Kyoga Nakamura (right) pulling the strings in the centre of the park for the Stags. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
Gaining momentum from the numerical advantage, it took Tampines just 10 minutes to find an equaliser. A first-time threaded through ball from playmaker Kyoga Nakamura found its way to van Huizen at the far post, who slotted home his first goal for Tampines.
Tampines continued to dominate possession and pressed on for the go-ahead goal, nearly getting their noses in front when Taufik Suparno’s cross was met by Mehmedovic in the six-yard box, drawing a fine save from Geylang custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Right when it looked like both sides were about to have a share of the spoils, Kopitovic produced a goal of the season contender with a looping finessed shot into the top corner from the left-edge of the penalty box. Tampines were finally in front with four minutes to play.
Tampines Rovers' Boris Kopitovic scores from the penalty spot. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
Surviving a late Geylang onslaught, the Stags held on for their second consecutive win of the season.
Speaking after the game, Tampines coach Gavin Lee was not pleased with his side’s performance despite the win.
“We often start quite slowly in the first half after international breaks, two weeks without a game. It was more of an application problem today, not that the players were not giving their 100% effort. That’s something we need to address as a technical team,” he said.
Geylang International's Vincent Bezecourt was unable to prevent the Eagles from suffering a bitter defeat. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
When asked about goalscorer Christopher van Huizen’s renaissance as a right-back, coach Gavin quipped: “Chris will reflect on his performance today and he, like me, would agree that he was far from his best. The goal was nice, but performances should not just be evaluated by goals. I’m happy with his start but it’s a work in progress.”
Geylang manager Noor Ali was indignant in defeat but lavished praise on the effort shown by his players in adversity.
“It was definitely not a fair game for us, we did well until the sending off. That decision made was not right, just a split second and the referee sends a player off. It’s not easy playing Tampines with 10-men, I felt we were the better team before the red card. I’m really proud of the boys, they did brilliant throughout the game,” he said.
Boris Kopitovic's brace helped Tampines Rovers move up to fourth in the AIA Singapore Premier League table. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
With the result, Tampines moved up to fourth in the league, four points behind league leaders Tanjong Pagar, who beat the Young Lions 3-2 in the concurrent fixture, but with a game in hand. Geylang slipped to sixth with four points from four games played.
The Eagles will host Albirex at Our Tampines Hub on Tuesday (Apr 5), whilst the Stags welcome Tanjong Pagar at the same venue on Wednesday (Apr 6), with both games kicking off at 8.30pm.
Tampines were unconvincing after a statement win against Hougang last gameweek, needing a numerical advantage to beat Geylang. Coach Gavin alluded to the lack of match fitness due to the two-week hiatus, as they started sloppily with lacklustre passing and movement.
Despite the inconsistent displays, Tampines are committed to playing pro-active attacking football. Using Mehmedovic as a wide-right playmaker drifting inwards in a 4-2-3-1 system, coach Gavin attempts to create numerical overloads in central areas whilst giving space for right-back van Huizen to overlap.
Zehrudin Mehmedovic of Tampines dives in to tackle Geylang's Vincent Bezecourt. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG
However, the Stags need to be wary of a leaky defence as they looked to be vulnerable in the attack-to-defence transition phase. Centre-backs Shuya Yamashita and Ryaan Sanizal have to develop a better understanding of each other’s games, yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
Geylang were impressive with 11-men on the pitch in their usual compact 4-4-2 defensive block off the ball. Bezecourt and Zuzul combined brilliantly for their first goal of the game, and the blossoming partnership between the two foreign players will prove pivotal to the success of the Eagles’ campaign.
Coach Noor Ali can take heart from another cohesive performance by a team that was largely assembled from scratch this season. Had Ahmad Syahir been let off from an unfortunate second yellow-card offence, Geylang could have very well emerged from a fiery derby game with the last laugh.
AIA Singapore Premier League 2022
Other Gameweek 5 Results
Hougang United 1-1 Albirex Niigata Fri, 1 Apr 2022, Hougang Stadium
Lion City Sailors 4-0 Balestier Khalsa Fri, 1 Apr 2022, Jalan Besar Stadium
Young Lions 2-3 Tanjong Pagar United Sat, 2 Apr 2022, Jalan Besar Stadium