Tampines Rovers continued to fly the Singapore flag high as they achieved a stunning 2-1 extra-time road victory against favourites Mohun Bagan to reach the 2016 AFC Cup quarter-finals.
The Stags were playing without the services of a few key players and had to contend with 10 men for most of the game, but they persevered and managed to emerge victorious at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Tuesday night.
Jermaine Pennant was deployed in the No.10 role and it proved to be an inspired move
Afiq Yunos’ 116th-minute goal proved to be the difference, after Bikramjit Singh had cancelled out Jordan Webb’s opener in the second half.
Playing without influential midfielder Yusa Katsumi and Haitian international winger Sony Norde, Mohun Bagan struggled to find the cutting edge and were dominated by the visitors throughout the first half.
Former Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant was deployed in the No.10 role in the absence of the injured Shahdan Sulaiman and it proved to be an inspired move by coach V Sundramoorthy.
After being brought down by Tirthankar Sarkar 20 yards from goal on seven minutes, the 33-year-old stepped up for the dead ball himself but found his goalbound effort pushed away by Mohun Bagan custodian Arnab Sharma.
The home side could have taken the lead in the 16th minute, with Jeje Lalpekhlua’s header from Sarkar’s corner hacked off the line by the alert Ismadi Mukhtar.
Tampines continued to put together promising moves, with Pennant expertly cutting the ball back for Fazrul from the right byline minutes later, but the latter could only fire disappointingly over the bar.
Mohun Bagan were then dealt a further blow towards the end of the first half when talismanic forward Cornell Glen had to limp off after pulling his hamstring in a duel with Mustafic Fahrudin.
Tampines should have been in front just before the break when Webb found himself with just Sharma to beat after receiving Pennant’s defence-splitting pass, but the Canadian winger side-footed his effort wide.
Webb’s intended right-wing cross sailed all the way over the despairing Sharma for a fortuitous opener
The Stags, however, suffered a setback nine minutes after the restart with left-back Shakir Hamzah shown a second yellow card for a minor scuffle with Subash Singh, just a couple of minutes after being booked.
The pendulum understandably swung Mohun Bagan’s way thereafter as they nearly scored three minutes later when Subash wriggled free of Afiq and Noh Rahman’s attention inside the box.
But the substitute was denied by Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud at point-blank range, as the latter parried a fierce drive.
Instead it was 10-man Tampines who broke the deadlock just after the hour mark, with Webb’s intended right-wing cross for Fazrul sailing all the way over the despairing dive of Sharma for a fortuitous opener.
That was the last piece of action for the 28-year-old though as he pulled a muscle in the process and was replaced by Fabian Kwok.
Mohun Bagan tried to muster a response on 69 minutes, with left back Dhanachandra Singh leaping above Mustafic to connect with Raju Gaikwad’s long throw but his powerful header was palmed away by Izwan.
The Mariners then levelled matters three minutes later, with midfield hard-man Bikramjit lashing home a powerful drive from 30 yards out. Izwan got a touch to the ball, but he could not keep it out.
Tampines then piled on the pressure in the dying stages and Pennant was denied a last-gasp opportunity by a superb sliding challenge from Mohun Bagan captain Kingshuk Debnath.
It was the perfect send-off for V Sundramoothy, who is about to be named Singapore national team coach
In extra-time, the Stags were tested to their limits, with captain Mustafic coming off.
It looked like the game was heading for the dreaded penalty shootout but Tampines scored again via a training ground routine.
After Hafiz was brought down on the left side of the penalty area, Pennant rolled the dead ball across goal for Afiq, who belted a superb first-time finish past a helpless Sharma for the winning goal.
The Stags held on for a famous victory, becoming the first Singaporean club to reach the AFC Cup quarter-finals since 2008.
It was also the perfect way to send off coach V Sundramoothy, who is about to be named Singapore national team coach.
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo