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Match Review: Eagles Derail Tampines Title Hopes with 3-2 Derby Triumph


Photo credit: Irfan Fiqri

Rio Sakuma's last-gasp winner at a rocking Our Tampines Hub sent Geylang International fans into ecstasy, as their heroes edged the more illustrious Tampines Rovers 3-2 in an enthralling derby.


Having memorably upsetted Lion City Sailors in last season's title run-in to derail their title chances, the Eagles may well be the kingmaker for the second campaign running as the Stags lost ground to reigning champions Albirex Niigata who moved three points ahead after thrashing Young Lions in a simultaneously played fixture.


Of greater significance to the green half of Tampines, they kept alive their dream of Asian football as they slashed their deficit with fourth-placed Balestier Khalsa to six points.


With the Tigers succumbing to a surprise defeat to the Cheetahs the night before, a fired-up Geylang side knew the stake at hand and put early pressure on Tampines while denying their cross-town rivals from creating clear-cut chances. Their spirited display was deservingly rewarded with an opener by Akmal Azman in the 35th minute.


Already without their first-choice goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari due to a red card suspension, the Stags were to receive a double whammy in the ensuing proceedings which helped the cause of the Eagles. The title chasers not only lost their goal machine Boris Kopitovic near the end of the first half, but they also saw red after the interval with Irfan Najeeb being given his marching orders for a dangerous tackle.


Playing with a numerical advantage, Geylang established a seemingly unassailable lead in the 53rd minute when Yushi Yamaya skillfully spun and swept home from Iqbal Hussain's brilliant cutback.


But the drama in Singapore's longest running derby was far from over as the Eagles needlessly conceded a penalty and a free-kick which led former Eaglet-turned-foe Yasir Hanapi to haul Tampines level from those dead ball situations.


With both teams throwing caution to the wind and seeking to land a final blow on their opponents, it was Geylang who gleefully took home all the spoils when Takahiro Tezuka's far-post header from Yamaya's cross deflected onto the path of Sakuma, who made no mistake in bundling the ball into the net from point-blank range.


Man of the match: Rio Sakuma - Apart from a careless challenge in the penalty box that sparked the Stags fightback, the Geylang vice-captain was the hero of the night for tirelessly surging up the pitch from his defensive position and popping in a late winner at the other end of the field in dramatic fashion.

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