Title-chasing Tampines Rovers are now just one point behind leaders Albirex Niigata (S) after edging Geylang International 2-1 at Jurong West Stadium on Thursday night.
Geylang did well to pull one back late in the first half after Tampines had gone 2-0 up earlier on, but ultimately failed to find the equaliser despite incessant late pressure.
Bringing back five national team players into the starting 11, Tampines looked the more comfortable of the two sides from the start and managed to break the deadlock on 21 minutes.
Farra (Mustafic Fahrudin) was important in helping the boys to keep calm and we managed to get the win
Canadian winger Jordan Webb latched onto a Izzdin Shafiq hooked pass, skinned his marker Al-Qaasimy Rahman before clipping the ball past the onrushing Geylang goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
Former English Premier League star Jermaine Pennant was also back in the Stags fold and was given the rough treatment throughout – eventually losing his cool as he reacted angrily to a poor Al-Qaasimy challenge that saw both players go into the book.
The 33-year-old dusted himself off to take the resulting free-kick on 39 minutes and found Billy Mehmet, who finished with a towering header into the bottom right corner.
Pennant duly celebrated towards the direction of the Geylang bench, drawing the ire of assistant coach Noor Ali and team manager Aizat Ramli.
The Englishman was swiftly brought off thereafter as a precautionary measure by coach Akbar Nawas, with Geylang reducing the deficit just three minutes later.
Shawal Anuar wriggled free on the right byline, before teeing up Mark Hartmann for a simple finish from close range.
At half-time, Geylang tactician Hasrin Jailani went for broke by utilising all three substitutions to bring on Daniel Bennett, Sahil Suhaimi and Gabriel Quak.
The Eagles looked good after the reshuffling and almost levelled things up on 51 minutes.
Sahil’s snapshot from just outside the area came back off the post before rolling gleefully into the grasp of Tampines custodian Izwan Mahbud.
The chances kept coming for the Eagles, but they were unable to convert. First, on 66 minutes, Roberto Camarasa nodded wide from Quak’s teasing ball after a neat short corner routine.
Then on 83 minutes, Quak got his head to Sahil’s inswinging corner but was unable to put the leather on target.
There was one last chance deep into injury time when Yasir Hanapi brought down Sahil outside the area, but Hartmann rammed his free-kick straight into the wall.
Tempers flared again right at the end, probably due to Geylang’s failure to return the ball after Tampines had kicked the ball out to allow Fazrul Nawaz to receive medical aid.
However, both sides ended the game with 11 men on the field as Tampines savoured a crucial win that kept them in the title hunt.
We have to forget this game and look forward to the next game. My target is to win all our last seven matches
“I knew Geylang are a very competitive team and they would come at us especially in the second half,” said Akbar, who succeeded V Sundramoorthy as Stags coach in late May. “I told them at half-time not to get emotionally involved with the players or the referees.
“Farra (Mustafic Fahrudin) was important in helping the boys to keep calm and we managed to get the win. Hopefully this puts some pressure on Albirex and we still can do better in the upcoming games.”
Meanwhile opposite counterpart Hasrin believes his side only have themselves to blame for the defeat.
“We lost focus for the first goal; they had time to switch the ball to our right side,” he analysed. “Before that, they did not do anything much for 20 minutes; we were the one attacking.
“For the second goal, it’s all because of marking. With Mehmet’s height there, we should be doing much better. Apart from them, the players did not do anything wrong; they played according to my instructions to counter by the flanks.
“Now we have to forget this game and look forward to the next game (against Brunei DPMM). My target is to win all our last seven matches.”
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FFTcomments