Tampines Rovers’ blushes spared by keeper’s mistake

Tampines Rovers’ blushes spared by keeper’s mistake

SINGAPORE - Just what was he thinking?

With his side just minutes away from a win in a top-of-the-table clash against league leaders Tampines Rovers, Albirex Niigata goalkeeper Hiroaki Hara decided to race to the edge of his penalty area to gather an innocuous-looking cross.

The 35-year-old shot-stopper, however, misjudged the flight of the ball completely and ended up punching it straight into the path of Tampines' top marksman Aleksandar Duric.

Duric gleefully stroked the ball home into an empty net to level the score, while Hara could only bury his face into the field at Clementi Stadium.

The late goal meant Tampines hung on to their eight-point lead at the top of the SLeague. A win for second-placed Albirex would have put pressure on the Stags, who, after last night, are still heavy favourites to bag their third S-League title on the trot.

Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama, however, refused to criticise Hara for his costly mistake.

When asked if he expected better from his experienced goalkeeper, the coach said: "I think so, but he was unlucky. "Hara did his best and saved many shots tonight, so I cannot blame him. It was an accident."

In what was a see-saw match, Tampines raced to a two-goal lead within 23 minutes. Duric put Tampines ahead on 18 minutes while Mustafic Fahrudin thumped home a header off a corner five minutes later.

But the Stags then seemed to relax and were punished as Albirex wiped out their two-goal advantage before the break. Kento Nagasaki pulled a goal back on 31 minutes and Kazuki Sakamoto headed in the equaliser just seconds before the halftime whistle.

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