A brace from marksman Boris Kopitovic and a goal from Eagles old boy Christopher van Huizen bailed Tampines Rovers from dropping points against a 10-men Geylang International in a Singapore Premier League match on Saturday evening (April 2).
The derby lived up to its pre-match hype: a five-goal see-saw game, a penalty, a red card, and a late dramatic goal. While the high-scoring game was entertaining to watch, the Geylang faithful, cheered on by the boisterous Ultras Eagles, had to endure an emotional roller coaster.
The Eagles gave their supporters something to cheer about during the early proceedings of the game when hotshot Šime Žužul put the team on the front foot with a coolly-taken goal on the 9th minute.
Vincent Bezecourt's defence splitting pass found a forward-running Žužul in the middle of an out-of-sorts Stags defence. After a quick shifting of ball to the left to evade a back-peddling Tampines defender, Žužul's right-footed shot rustled at the back of the opponents' net.
Unfortunately this lead was to last for only five minutes as a foul by Faizal Roslan on Kopitovic inside the box resulted in the latter equalising from the spot.
Not to be saddled by the setback, the Geylang team played with confidence and sprung another surprise mid-way through the first half.
Takahiro Tezuka saw Ahmad Syahir running down the Stag's left flank and launched a diagonal ball to him deep from the Eagles' defensive line.
Making further inroads and finding space in the left side of the Tampines' box, Ahmad picked up an onrushing Hazzuwan Halim whose shot rebounded and fell kindly to Khairul Haire in the penalty arc.
Khairul made one touch to the ball before unleashing a rocket past a diving Syazwan Buhari.
Leading Tampines 2-1 at the break, the Eagles fans applauded the players off the pitch and believed that the team were 45 minutes from securing another major upset.
But there's a saying "Football's a game of two halves" and it cannot be truer for this Eastern derby.
Fate would be unkind to Geylang International as van Huizen, a talented winger who was under-utilised during his three-year spell with the club, contributed significantly to the downfall of the team.
On the 55th minute, van Huizen was floored by Ahmad who earned his second yellow card and was given his marching orders.
Geylang International found themselves a man down early in the second half. This would be the turning point of the game and it proved to be a tall order for the Eagles to protect their well-deserved lead.
van Huizen was then in the main act of Tampines' second equaliser on the 66th minute. Stags attacking midfielder Kyoga Nakamura's shot was diverted to the feet of van Huizen who then swiped the ball into the net from close range.
The 10-men Eagles continued to play valiantly to at least earn a point from the derby. But the inevitable defeat dawned with four minutes of the game remaining when Kopitovic unleashed an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box past Zaiful Nizam.
With another tough assignment against Albirex Niigata coming soon on Tuesday, Geylang International cannot dwell too much on the derby defeat and must keep their belief of a successful season alive.
Man of the Match: Zaiful Nizam - The Geylang captain led by example by putting in a top performance in the Eastern derby. He repelled Tampines' seven shots on target with a series of good saves. If Zaiful can maintain this high level of performance throughout the season, it is likely for him to challenge Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud for a starting berth in the Singapore national team.