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Match Review: Eagles and Stags Battle to a Goalless Stalemate

Photo credit: Idi Bakhtiar

Geylang International were fortunate to come away with a point against Tampines Rovers when the two eastern rivals clashed at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday evening (October 1).

Lady Luck smiled on the Eagles as opposing marksman Boris Kopitovic was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal, failing to find the net in any of his eight attempts.

Though Vincent Bezecourt and his teammates were also guilty of missing their chances at the other end of the pitch, the green half of Tampines were the happier of the two teams to settle for a draw.

The result keeps Geylang International in the race for the AFC Cup spot, as they remain seven points apart from their third-placed Tampines neighbours with three games remaining to the end of the season.

But the club dropped to fifth in the league table with Tanjong Pagar United leapfrogging them after their 8-1 emphatic victory over Young Lions on the same evening.

The Eagles' determination not to lose further ground to their Asia-chasing rivals was evident from the first whistle when the designated away side fought tooth and nail to prevent their net from being breached by the Stags attackers.

The defensive pairing of Rio Sakuma and Joshua Pereira battled hard and held their ground superbly in face of a barrage of shots from Kopitovic and Co.

In those moments when their defensive line was breached, they can count on the ever-alert goalkeeping of Zaiful Nizam.

In fact, Zaiful came to the rescue three minutes before the half-time break when he dealt possibly Tampines Rovers' best chance of the first half by diving quickest to the ground to deny Taufik Suparno's close-range shot.

While pleased with the defensive displays from his squad, head coach Noor Ali was concerned by Geylang International's lack of chances in goal and he made a half-time substitution by taking out the ineffectual Fareez Farhan for Ahmad Syahir to inject more life down the left flank.

Ahmad's lively presence up front proved to be a distraction for Tampines Rovers and this created space for Bezecourt to put his shots away.

Successive chances from the French attacking midfielder came around the hour mark. But to his dismay, the first effort was denied by the reflex save of Syazwan Buhari while the second was cleared off the line by an opposing defender.

The contest came to life at this point with Bezecourt's latest goal attempt turning into a Stags counter-attacking move in a split second.

With Kopitovic escaping his last marker on the half-way line and racing for a probing pass by Tampines Rovers midfielder Zehrudin Mehmedovic, Zaiful had to rush off his line and contest for the ball in no man's land.

But to the horror of the Geylang International fans supporting in the away stand, the veteran goalkeeper fluffed his clearance and Kopitovic quickly took a hopeful shot from distance.

Thankfully, the 35-year-old was not punished for his mistake as the ball trickled past the left side of the goal post.

Both eastern rivals continued to probe for a breakthrough for the remaining of the second half and had great opportunities to snatch the winner as the game reached its conclusion, with headed efforts from Kopitovic and Pereira during injury time being superbly saved by the two goalkeepers.

A point in the bag has kept alive the Eagles' slim hopes of playing continental football. But with the Stags merely a win away from guaranteeing a spot in Asia, the former giants know that time is running out and would have to do their best in securing maximum points from the last three fixtures.

Man of the match: Joshua Pereira - The 24-year-old centre-back, formerly from Young Lions, faced a David vs. Goliath contest against Tampines Rovers goal machine Boris Kopitovic. His battling displays against the 1.89m target man had prevented the Montenegrin from adding to his season's tally of 29 goals. He also could have popped a winner for Geylang International late on had his goal-bound effort not been denied by the Stags goalie. With Pereira earning his first two international appearances last month, the future looks promising for the versatile defender.

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