Jermaine Pennant’s S.League career is underway, with his Tampines Rovers needing a late goal to secure a 3-3 draw in a thrilling clash with Geylang International in front of 2,930 fans at the Jurong West Stadium on Monday evening.
In fact it could have been worse for the title fancies, who let slip a two-goal lead to trail 3-2 late on and had to rely on a late goal from Yasir Hanapi to save their blushes.
With the acquisitions of Pennant and eight LionsXII players, Tampines are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the title and they showed exactly why by going two up in the first half.
Canadian forward Jordan Webb got them on their way after 12 minutes as he played an intelligent one-two with another new face in Billy Mehmet, before firing in a deflected shot that looped over Geylang goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
Former Sarawak hit man Mehmet then joined in the act in the 34th minute by neatly sidefooting home Hafiz Sujad’s teasing left-wing cross.
However, the revamped Geylang side was keen to show it’s no pushover this season, pulling one back within a minute of Tampines’ second goal.
Right-winger Amy Recha took out three defenders near the right byline before somehow squeezing home a finish from a tight angle past new Tampines custodian Izwan Mahbud.
The Eagles then levelled matters 10 minutes into the second half, with Argentinian playmaker Carlos Delgado rifling home a superb half-volley from outside the box after Tampines had failed to clear Safirul Sulaiman’s corner from the right.
Pennant was introduced shortly after and had some neat moments on the ball, but did not have enough time to truly make an impact before captain Noh Rahman got a second yellow card for a late tackle on Al-Qaasimy Rahman.
Geylang took advantage of the numerical superiority and eventually took the lead for the first time on the night on 79 minutes.
Substitute Stanely Ng thumped home a brilliant first-time finish from 10 yards out after the Stags’ defence once again failed to clear its lines.
However, Tampines were to gain a share of the spoils five minutes from time with Yasir Hanapi firing an outrageous long-range volley that dipped over a hapless Syazwan.
Yasir followed Noh Rahman then became the second Tampines player to have an early night, adjudged to have elbowed Gabriel Quak to earn himself a second yellow and leave the Stags with just nine men.
The visitors pushed forward in the dying stages and nearly grabbed a winner via Taufiq Ghani, but the Geylang substitute’s goalbound drive was somehow parried by Izwan.
Eventually both sides had to settle for the point, with Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani understandably the happier of the two coaches.
“We came here with a game plan to let Tampines come at us, before winning the ball in our defensive third,” explained the first-year coach. “We did that well and managed to get a point away from home against a very good Tampines side.
“Even though with nine men, they were going forward to create something. Instead of being disappointed (at not getting the win), I’m very happy with how my team played.”
Tampines counterpart V Sundramoorthy admitted his team was fortunate to escape with a point.
“Definitely I wanted to win this game, but football is such a game that we cannot predict,” said the 50-year-old. “We knew Geylang came with a game plan trying to contain us, but we should have kept our composure and wrapped the game up.
“We made defensive mistakes, but did well to come back late on. Playing with nine men, I will take the point as a good start and move on.”
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo