It was another weekend of SPL action and we experienced yet another twist in the title race. Tampines Rovers, who has struggled since returning from their maiden AFC Champions League voyage, put in a solid performance to hold Albirex Niigata to a draw and deny them valuable three points. However, that draw meant nothing unless Lion City Sailors could secure three points against Geylang International. They did so exceptionally – a solid 3-0 victory over the Eagles propelled them to the top of the league on goal difference. Elsewhere, Tanjong Pagar United overcame a resilient Young Lions side and emerged victories with a 2-1 win – a vital result in their quest to finish 5th in the league.
Hassan Sunny – GK
This was a tough one because it was going to be between him and Syazwan Buhari. In the end, I had to go with the Sailors custodian. Don’t get me wrong, Syazwan Buhari pulled some fine saves to deny a menacing Albirex side. However, so did Hassan and he had the added pressure of keeping a clean sheet. After all, it seems the title will be decided on goal difference on the final day of the season and so, keeping a clean sheet becomes significantly more vital.
The Albirex Niigata captain was, as usual, a menace down the right flank and is arguably a player clubs in Southeast Asia need to pay attention to. He had a lot to do against a Tampines Rovers side that needed a positive result to silence their critics. The right-back was darting down the wings to produce some phenomenal crosses picking out orange shirts in excellent positions. It’s a shame that none of his teammates managed to convert his whipped in crosses into goals.
The increased game time under Kim Do Hoon seems to be working in Tajeli’s favour because the utility man has flourished in his right-back role. Although he was previously deployed as a centre-back, his reversion to the right flank of defence has produced some of his best football yet. Against Geylang, he managed to contain an ever-threatening frontline of Moresche and Amy Recha. Besides performing well defensively, he also assisted Song Ui Yong for Sailors’ second goal, and his threatening cross in the 86th minute bounced off a Geylang defender. His supply found Hafiz Nor, who drilled his shot past Zaiful Nizam and into the back of the net for Sailors’ third.
Many thought that Hariss Harun would be fielded in his usual midfield general role but the national team captain is leading by example from the back. Deployed as a centre-back, Hariss has done remarkably well to establish himself in the heart of the defence. In Jorge’s absence, Hariss has doubled up as the physical and aerial guard at the back, heading way dangerous crosses and showing his physical prowess by outmuscling opponents to win the ball. So, as Sailors approach the last day of the season, they have nothing to fear, Hariss Harun is here.
The young Tampines right-back had a brilliant showing against the White Swans. Amirul has established himself in the Stags’ starting line-up this season and against Albirex, put in a marvellous performance underlining that he possessed maturity well beyond his years. Blessed with a fantastic work ethic, he snuffed out Albirex Niigata attacking moves down his flank and was went the extra mile to ensure that he remained focused with the job at hand. A living embodiment if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, Gavin Lee must be proud.
The pacey and prolific winger made his presence known against the Eagles as he wreaked havoc by skillfully dribbling around the Geylang defence. Throughout the game, Faris Ramli was able to find essential pockets of spaces to slip into, receive the ball and quickly release it for his teammates – keeping the tempo high in the process. Most importantly, Faris scored the key first goal of the game that boosted the Sailors’ confidence for the rest of the fixture. Capitalizing on a Geylang International mistake, Faris made the eagles pay with a solid strike. Sailors 1 Eagles 0.
You can always depend on Kyoga Nakamura to do his best and produce when it matters and the Stags had midfield solidarity thanks to him. Making important passes all around the pitch, Kyoga is really like a ball of energy that zips around the pitch – much like a ball in a pinball machine. He was indeed a crucial player in Tampines Rovers’ significant 0-0 draw against his former team.
Iman Hakim put on a solid performance against Albirex Niigata this week. The young midfielder was brought in this season with a lot of hype about his potential. He may not have had the best start to his Tampines career but it seems he has finally settled down. Making essential passes in the middle of the park and maintaining a 96% passing success rate, Iman would be expected to step up next season should he remain with the Rovers.
The clinical Brazilian forward reminded us why he could possibly be the best Brazilian forward in the SPL this season. Besides testing the Young Lions goalkeeper with several shots, he also set up his teammates for chances as well. In the 66th minute, he executed a clever pass to Shodai Nishikawa into the middle of the penalty box, forcing the Young Lions defence to take him down and yield a penalty to the Jaguars. Up stepped Júnior and let’s be honest, no one was expecting him to do anything else but put the ball past the keeper and into the back of the net.
Glenn Kweh has a ton of potential and he almost gave Young Lions the lead from the kick-off but his shot narrowly whizzing past the goal post after taking a knock from Zharfan Rohaizad. Nevertheless, the Young Lions forward found the back of the net once again this season after an impressive solo effort in the 23rd minute. Darting down the right flank, Glenn cut in and produced a brilliant finesse shot to equalize for the Cubs.
The Japanese ace was a critical offensive outlet for the Jaguars. Finding space in the middle of the box, he managed to head in a delicious Ridhuan Mohammad cross to score the first Tanjong Pagar United goal. He could have made it two goals but despite not converting his chance, he expertly found space to make runs to threatening positions.
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