SINGAPORE – It has been uncomfortable viewing for Gavin Lee as he has watched his side throw away winning positions in three of their last four games but the Tampines Rovers coach remains a picture of calm as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season reaches its climax.
The Stags, who at the start of November were four points clear, now trail leaders Albirex Niigata by two with just four matches left.
Round 11 is on Wednesday (Nov 25) and Tampines travel to face Hougang United knowing a win and three points are critical for their title challenge.
Lee said: “We have made errors which we don’t typically make, and we got punished. Naturally, we are disappointed, but we don’t spend time brooding over what could and should have been.
“Many things can go wrong in football, and it is important we remain calm.”
After keeping five clean sheets in their first six games, Tampines have conceded in their last four matches. In three of those, they took the lead against Geylang International, Balestier Khalsa and Tanjong Pagar United, but ended up with just a draw which has cost them precious points.
Their top scorer Jordan Webb, with seven goals, was also sent off in their last game – a 2-2 draw against Tanjong Pagar – for abusing the referee, and will miss the next two matches.
But Lee, who led Tampines to Singapore Cup glory last year, insists he would rather look for solutions than scapegoats.
“We have Boris Kopitovic (six goals) who not only scores goals, but does very well for us in defence and transition, and we also have Taufik Suparno and Fazrul Nawaz (neither have scored this season),” he said.
Hougang, who are fifth in the standings, won their earlier encounter 2-1 in October by defending deep but Lee is adamant he will persist with the patient and probing possession-based football his Stags are known for.
The 30-year-old also defended his selection of youngsters – full-backs Andrew Yong and Ryaan Sanizal are 17 and 18 respectively – and backed them to cope with the pressures at the most important part of the campaign.
Lee said: “The three results are a small sample size and it is unfair to extrapolate them and negate the good work we have done for the past two years.
“We will trust the process because it has given us our identity and brought us to where we are now. The process doesn’t guarantee results, but through paying attention to what we believe in and application, we will have a better chance of winning.
“Every team have the right to play the style they want, it’s our job to solve the problem.”
At least their destiny is in their hands. Tampines’ last four games are against Hougang, Albirex, third-placed Lion City Sailors and fourth-placed Geylang and if they win all four, they will be crowned champions and qualify for next season’s AFC Champions League group stage.
Tampines chairman Desmond Ong, 51, was unwavering in his support for Lee. The lawyer said: “Gavin hasn’t taught me how to lawyer, and I won’t teach him how to coach. Now is not the time to get upset, and let’s face it, Geylang and Tanjong Pagar’s equalisers were worldies.
“From a football point of view, it is great for Singapore football to have such unpredictability and a grandstand finish to the end of the season. Personally, I’m more excited about trying to qualify for the Champions League; winning the league would be a bonus.
“As a club, we want to develop players and coaches, and build an identity. The coach and the boys have gotten us so far, and I am determined to keep faith in them.”
Wednesday, Nov 25
Balestier v Tanjong Pagar
Singtel TV Ch111
Albirex v Young Lions
StarHub TV Ch 201
Hougang v Tampines
Singtel TV Ch113/StarHub Ch202
Geylang v Lion City
Singtel TV Ch112/StarHub Ch204
All matches at 7.45pm and also streamed on SPL’s Facebook and YouTube pages at 7.35pm