Tampines grind out S.League win over Balestier to bounce back
Tampines Rovers returned to winning ways after a disappointing result in midweek by toiling to a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa in Saturday's S.League encounter at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
Following a goalless first half, it was Ivan Dzoni popped up with a close-range finish for the Stags five minutes after the break, which ultimately proved enough to hand them maximum points.
Although it was not the prettiest of victories, it was nevertheless an important one after an abject display on Tuesday saw Tampines fall to a 5-0 defeat to Philippine outfit Ceres-Negros in the AFC Cup.
While morale would have been low following that emphatic loss, the Stags did not resemble a side that had allowed their heads to drop and looked good from the opening whistle.
Imran Sahib had their first opportunity after five minutes but could only flash a shot wide, while Khairul Amri failed to keep a header down in the 10th minute after being picked out by a Yasir Hanapi corner.
Another excellent delivery by Yasir a minute after the half-hour mark found Dzoni for the visitors' next decent opportunity, but, likewise, the striker was unable to nod it on target.
The hosts did their best to force their way into the contest and, against the run of play six minutes before half-time, they could have entered the break ahead on the scoreboard when Tajeli Salamat's ambitious 30-yard drive had to be tipped over by Izwan Mahbud.
Still, Tampines always looked the likelier of the two sides to break the deadlock, and they did just that in the 50th minute.
Having made his way in behind the Tigers backline, Dzoni advanced on goal before calmly finishing past Zaiful Nizam for his second goal of the campaign.
The visitors were then presented with a perfect chance to kill off the contest in the 73rd minute when they were awarded a penalty after Dzoni was felled inside the area.
It was the Croat who stepped up to the spot, despite having already missed a crucial penalty on the opening day of the season and with his side boasting a host of dead-ball experts like Fahrudin Mustafic and Amri.
To his credit, Dzoni had also converted another previous attempt in their previous league outing but, this time, it was not to be as Zaiful guessed correctly to thwart him.
Less than a minute later, it appeared that Balestier would make the visitors pay for that miss when Hazzuwan Halim broke free and appeared certain to score, only for Mustafic to halt the threat with a crucial challenge.
As the game entered its closing stages, Tampines were always going to sit back and hold out for the remainder of the contest.
But there was still further drama to come in injury-time when Balestier defender Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Stags substitute Jamil Ali appeared to get into an altercation while jostling inside the area.
Both were issued their marching orders by referee Nathan Chan, resulting in an unsavoury end in what ultimately would have been a satisfactory display for the Stags that takes them up to fourth on the table.
In Saturday's other game, Hougang United climbed up to third after goals by Fareez Farhan and Fumiya Kogure handed them a 2-0 triumph over bottom side Garena Young Lions at the Hougang Stadium.
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Hanafi Salleh, Huzaifah Aziz, Raihan Rahman, Tajeli Salamat (Zulkhair Mustaffa 85'), Hazzuwan Halim (Ahmad Syahir 79'), Aung Kyaw Naing, Jonathan Tan (Danial Farhan Tan 68'), Kyaw Zayar Win.
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Daniel Bennett, Irwan Shah, Imran Sahib (Jamil Ali 66'), Yasir Hanapi (Hafiz Rahim 83'), Son Yong-chan, Ryutaro Megumi, Ivan Dzoni, Khairul Amri (Shakir Hamzah 89').