Joel Tshibamba netted his first goals since arriving in late February as his brace helped Warriors FC edge Garena Young Lions 4-3 in the 2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Saturday night.
A slow start to the match offered little hint of what was to follow in the second-half as Tshibamba – who was dropped from the starting line-up – gave the hosts the lead immediately after coming on at the break.
The Young Lions came storming back but after Warriors pulled level through goals from Shahril Ishak and Jordan Webb, Tshibamba then popped up with the winner in injury time to help Warriors extend their unbeaten start to the season to five games.
The nine-time league champions registered their first shot on target two minutes into the match when Webb’s low drive at goal beat a full stretch Fashah Iskandar but not the post.
Warriors had their hearts in their mouth in the tenth minute when Taufik Suparno pounced on a weak header from Syaqir Sulaiman, only to fire straight at Basil Chan.
The Young Lions continued to hold their own against their much experienced opponents and came close to breaking the deadlock again on 28 minutes.
A backheel from Muhelmy Suhaimi found Rusyaidi Salime and the right-back launched a shot at goal from 20 yards out, but Chan saw the ball all the way and made a comfortable save.
The best chance of the first period fell to the hosts a minute later when a counter-attack from Warriors saw Webb play Shahril through on goal, but the latter’s effort at close range was brilliantly pushed away by Fashah.
In an attempt for his team to be more clinical in the final third, Warriors head coach Razif Onn brought on Tshibamba for Syaqir immediately after the break and it turned out to be an inspired move.
The Young Lions defence backed off and allowed Tshibamba to drive through on goal as the Dutch-Congolese striker’s effort took a heavy deflection before trickling into goal.
Warriors’ joy at going ahead was short-lived though, as poor defending allowed an unmarked Muhaimin Suhaimi to blast home at the far post for the equaliser in the 51st minute.
The Young Lions took the lead for the first time in the game four minutes after the hour mark when Jordan Chan was brought down by Baihakki in the 18-yard box and Taufik stepped up to coolly slot his spot-kick past Basil Chan.
The hosts had a glorious opportunity to pull level in the 74th minute when a cross-shot from Webb eluded everyone in the box, but crashed off the frame of the goal.
The visitors increased their lead four minutes later when Muhaimin turned provider, with his cross finding Taufik at the far post and the 22-year-old made no mistake from six yards out.
It looked like the Young Lions were about to pull off an improbable victory until the 82nd minute when Shahril pounced on a loose ball from a corner before slotting home from close range to pull a goal back for the hosts.
The goal gave Warriors the impetus to pour forward to search for an equaliser and it duly came four minutes later when Webb sent his spot-kick past Fashah after Shahril was adjudged to have been brought down in the box.
That set up a grandstand finish to the match as Tshibamba nodded home the winner off Baihakki’s header back into the box deep into stoppage time, sending the home supporters into delirium.
Warriors FC Head Coach Razif Onn: “We were too relaxed in the first-half and failed to deal with their long balls. We forced them to play through the flanks in the second-half and it was much better.
“Our offensive game was fantastic today, even towards the last minute. I didn’t start Joel (Tshimbamba) because I wanted him to prove to me that he deserves his place in the starting lineup. He proved that to me today.
“We need to do more defensively to win championships, but if we can show our second-half spirit in future games, we will do well.”
Garena Young Lions Head Coach V. Selvaraj: “I’m glad that my boys were put under tremendous pressure in the last 10 minutes, because they needed to learn to cope with this kind of pressure to survive in big tournaments.
“At 3-1 up, we were very confident but what we lacked was aerial quality because when Warriors started hitting long balls into the final third, we were losing challenges in the air defensively.
“I can say this is our best performance so far because we executed the gameplan perfectly, found the net three times after not scoring for so long and we created a host of chances.”
Warriors FC: Basil Chan (GK), Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Baihakki Khaizan (C), Ho Wai Loon, Syaqir Sulaiman (Joel Tshibamba 46’), Shahril Ishak, Poh Yi Feng (Firdaus Kasman 79’), Ridhuan Muhamad, Fazli Jaffar (Hafiz Nor 42’), Jordan Webb
Garena Young Lions: Fashah Iskandar (GK), Rusyaidi Salime, Amirul Adli, Shahrin Saberin (C), Ammirul Emmran, Syahrul Sazali, Muhaimin Suhaimi (Zulqarnaen Suzliman 81’), Muhelmy Suhaimi (Faizal Roslan 76’), Hami Syahin, Jordan Chan (Haiqal Pashia 71’), Taufik Suparno
Written by: Shawn Lim