217673714_4174386689319036_4723327857970507786_n(Tanjong Pagar's Luiz Junior - Photo by Football Association of S'pore)


By Chia Han Keong

After nearly two months of inaction, the Singapore Premier League (SPL) made its long-awaited return on Saturday (17 Jul), as the bottom two sides Tanjong Pagar United and the Young Lions kicked off the second half of the season with a 1-1 draw at Jurong East Stadium.

With precious little quality between the two struggling sides, it boiled down to two schoolboy errors which led to both goals, as the players huffed and puffed with little inspiration in the sweltering sun. It was the first league match since 23 May, before the league was halted for international matches.

The match itself was a replay of the 8 May tie, which was abandoned after about one hour of play due to bad weather. In that clash, the scorers were Hami Syahin for the Young Lions and Luiz Junior for Tanjong Pagar -- and both of them repeated their scoring feat in this match.


215520294_4174056492685389_6544058740346658930_n(Lineups from Tanjong Pagar United FC and Young Lions Facebook Pages)


The Young Lions had yet to register a victory all season, as they languished at the foot of the eight-team league. Tanjong Pagar, on the other hand, had only one win all season -- and that was a thumping 4-0 win over the Young Lions.

And the hosts began the match eager to repeat that win, with Luiz Junior and their two Japanese imports Reo Nishiguchi and Shodai Nishikawa probing the jittery Young Lions defence at every opportunity. It had looked as if they would be comfortable even without national fullback Shakir Hamzah, their latest signing who joined just a day before the match.

216378928_4170535863037452_6578694209019865050_n(Shakir Hamzah - Photo by Tanjong Pagar United FC)


The Young Lions were tentative as they started the match on the back foot, with striker Ilhan Fandi cutting a lonely figure among the swarm of Tanjong Pagar defenders around him. Out of nowhere, they took the lead in the 20th minute, courtesy of a cringeworthy error from Jaguars' goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad. A looping cross from the left flank looked like a routine catch for Zharfan, who was under no pressure from any opponent.

Somehow, the ball slipped from his grasp and, as it bobbled on the ground, inviting the Young Lions’ Zamani Zamri to rush in, Zharfan recklessly tugged the winger down to the ground. Referee Ahmad A'qashah had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, and Tanjong Pagar players did not even try to contest the decision. Up stepped Hami to take the spot kick and, while Zharfan guessed the right way, the Young Lions midfielder’s shot was hit firm and low into the net.

209397714_4725715980776193_9122371744745450953_n(Young Lions' Hami Syahin - Photo by Football Association of S'pore)


Buoyed by the prospect of registering their first win of the season, the Young Lions stormed forward in search of a second goal, and they nearly got it on the half-hour mark, when captain Jacob Mahler’s thumping header from a corner was blocked on the goalline by a defender.



Whatever Tanjong Pagar head coach Hasrin Jailani said at half time worked wonders for the Jaguars, and they came out seemingly snapped out of their funk, and began to dominate play. While the Young Lions threatened on the break, they were largely pinned back in defence, as substitute Ridhuan Mohammad added an extra goal threat for the Jaguars.

The former Lions winger came close twice, needing just a tap-in to convert crosses from his teammates, while Nishigushi squandered a good opportunity as he shot into the side-netting when put free by Ridhuan. But just when it seemed like Tanjong Pagar’s effort would be futile, they were gifted their equaliser via a poor error by Young Lions defender Narzhiim Harman in the 65th minute.

 217573622_4725716134109511_484814077950784124_n(Tanjong Pagar's Luiz Junior - Photo by Football Association of S'pore)


It had seemed a routine clearance of a cross from the right for Narzhiim, but the bounce confused the 22-year-old, as his clumsy clearance landed straight at Luiz Junior. The Brazilian needed no second invitation, advancing forward unmarked before cleanly dispatching his shot into the net.

The rest of the match was a series of nice build-ups but no clear-cut chances, as the two sides cancelled each other out and settled for the draw. The Young Lions’ search of their first win of the season continues.


The 1-1 scoreline meant that the Young Lions stayed bottom with four points, while Tanjong Pagar remained second-from-bottom, but are level on points with sixth-placed Geylang International.

The SPL will resume in earnest on 23 Jul, with a mouth-watering, top-of-the-table clash between champions Albirex Niigata (S) and second-placed Lion City Sailors at Jurong East Stadium.


Chia Han Keong is a freelance journalist who has covered both Singapore and international sports extensively for the past 18 years. He was the sports editor of bilingual tabloid My Paper, and has also worked for The Straits Times and Yahoo News Singapore. He has covered four SEA Games (2009, 2011, 2013, 2019), two Asian Games (2010, 2014) as well as the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He counts himself as a massive Liverpool, LA Lakers and Rafael Nadal fan.