A youthful Geylang International side held their own against an experienced Tampines Rovers as they clinched a point in the season opener at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday evening (February 25).
A goal apiece from either team within the first 16 minutes of the contest settle an evenly-matched Eastern derby.
The Eagles came into this game as the underdogs but they exuded confidence of winning from the first whistle.
In less than a minute from kick-off - with fans still streaming into the stadium and settling into their seats - Vincent Bezecourt, who received the ball from Iqbal Hussein in a wide left position, decided to be cheeky by lobbing a cross-cum-shot towards goal.
That attempt caught opposite goalie Syazwan Buhari by surprise and he had to backpedal and palm the ball over the bar.
Bezecourt could not be denied in his second try as he drew first blood a minute later.
Having scored Geylang International's first goal of the 2022 season in a 1-0 victory over Lion City Sailors (LCS), the French midfield maestro repeated the feat as he volleyed home Akmal Azman's cross with aplomb.
Stunned by Bezecourt's early opener, Tampines Rovers gradually got their act together and levelled the match via Faris Ramli in the 16th minute.
A through pass from Stags playmaker Kyoga Nakumura sent the new signing from LCS away from the Eagles defence and racing towards goal. The nimble-footed winger then quickly shifted the ball to the left to avoid an onrushing Rio Sakuma and struck it through the legs of Hafiz Ahmad.
Unfazed by the setback, the spirited Geylang International kept their neighbours at bay and hardly gave them any clear-cut chances for the rest of the proceedings.
Instead, it was the green half of Tampines who were more threatening in front of goal, despite not having an out-and-out striker in the team.
Yushi Yamaya, a winger by trade, thought he had scored a debut goal after diverting Takahiro Tezuka's shot into the net six minutes from half time.
But Yamaya's joy was short-lived after the video assistant referee judged him to be in an offside position and the goal was ruled out.
Another goalscoring opportunity came and gone in the 55th minute with Bezecourt missing a sitter from six yards after being put clear on goal by Naufal Azman.
It was Tezuka's turn to miss from a similar position when his shot in the 77th minute was charged down by a Tampines Rovers defender.
Iqbal then had his chance two minutes later when he fired a shot from the edge of the penalty area. But keeper Syazwan was equal to the task by diving at his near post to shepherd the ball out safely for a corner.
With the derby heading to its conclusion, Yamaya could have sealed an improbable victory for his new club had he not skied his effort over the bar with only the goalie to beat.
Despite those missed chances, the Eagles deserve a pat on the back for their gutsy display in holding their more illustrious opponents to a draw.
But fortune will not always be in the young side's favour over the course of the season.
With fixtures coming thick and fast - two over the next eight days - the Geylang International coaching staff have much to do within a short space of time to work with the attackers on their finishing moves.
Man of the match: Joshua Pereira - The newly minted Geylang International captain had led the way in showing his teammates the playing standards required to compete in this new campaign. Despite his lean frame, he imposed an outsized presence in the middle of the pitch and gave Tampines Rovers midfielders little time on the ball with his constant harassing and robust tackles. When called upon to play in central defence after the hour mark, the versatile player did his job with minimum fuss as he snuffed out the Stags goal threats in the closing stages of the game and helped his side secure a point.