Tampines 2-0 Loyola: Stags take handy advantage into second leg

They were not that impressive throughout, but the most important thing for Tampines Rovers was that they secured the goals and didn't concede, as a 2-0 victory over visiting Loyola Meralco Sparks saw them put a foot in the final.

The Sparks started the better side, creating two early openings but Phil Younghusband was crowded out in the penalty area, while Jeong Byeongyeol's foray into the box was stopped by Imran Sahib.

Tampines managed to settle down midway through, and fashioned a few openings of their own. 

Aleksandar Duric fired tamely at Loyola goalkeeper Ref Cuaresma and Sead Hadzibulic headed straight to the custodian, while Ismadi Mukhtar's ball across the six-yard area was cleared by Kim Woo Chul.  

Gligor Gligorov gave the Sparks a warning shot on 27 minutes, as he cut inside his man and flashed his sharp drive just wide of the post.

However the visitors did not heed that warning, as they conceded two minutes later.

A long ball over the top sent Duric racing clear just inside the box, and the 42-year-old was ever the cool customer as he finished the pass with a cheeky lob over Cuaresma from an acute angle.

With his side being a goal down, Loyola manager Vincent Santos made the decision to bring on captain James Younghusband to replace Simon Greatwich on the right flank on 36 minutes, although the scoreline remained till half-time. 

Tampines restarted in barnstorming fashion, as Duric's header looped over while Gligorov's close-range header similarly just cleared the bar. 

On 49 minutes, their efforts paid off for a second time.

An Imran cutback picked out Ahmad Latiff, who was lurking with intent just outside the box and he let fly with a screamer which fizzed right into the bottom left corner.

Loyola could have reduced arrears eight minutes later as Chad Gough headed firmly past Sasa Dreven from Kim's precise deadball.

However referee Sukhbir Singh adjudged Kim to have taken the free kick without his whistle, and the latter was shown his second yellow of the night to compound troubles.

Playing the remaining 33 minutes with a one-man advantage, Tampines could have scored more as Duric's tap-in from a Latiff cross was ruled out for offside, while a Hadzibulic header was pushed away by Cuaresma. 

The Stags sat back for Loyola to come at them in the closing stages, as James Younghusband fired wide just inside the box.

However their victory was marred late on, as centreback Benoit Croissant was sent off for a second bookable offence in injury time.

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