A spirited second-half comeback by Geylang International was not enough to clinch a point against their Eastern rivals, Tampines Rovers, in the first group stage match of the Singapore Cup played on Friday evening (October 28).
Stags midfielder Kyoga Nakamura broke the hearts of many Eagles fans when his injury-time strike condemned the green half of Tampines to a 3-2 derby defeat.
With Tanjong Pagar United collecting maximum points in their win over Hougang United and joining Tampines Rovers in the top-two positions of Group B, Geylang International face an uphill task of qualifying to the semi-finals with two group games to go.
The Eagles started the match on the wrong footing when Faizal Roslan diverted Boris Kopitovic's shot into his own goal in the 3rd minute.
Faizal's night turned from back to worse as half-time neared.
With a watchful Zaiful Nizam already shepherding Stags youngster Ong Yu En away from the goalmouth, the stand-in left back needlessly hacked his opponent inside the box which gave the referee no choice but to point to the spot.
Kopitovic, who blanked in his previous derby encounter, made no mistake this time as he sent Zaiful the wrong way from 12 yards.
The half-time break could not have arrived at a better time as Geylang International head coach Noor Ali took the opportunity to put Faizal out of his misery by substituting the latter for Ahmad Syahir.
Despite being two goals down, there was a sense that the Eagles could stage a comeback in the second half as shown in a couple of occasions this season.
Indeed, Sime Zuzul gave the 2009 cup winners a glimmer of hope midway through the second period when he pounced on a rebound from the keeper and drove the ball straight into the net.
Noor's substitution of Khairul Hairie for Huzaifah Aziz, who was already on a yellow, proved to be a shrewd tactical move when the substitute scored the equaliser two minutes from time.
Receiving Hazzuwan Halim's cross from the right, Khairul took a couple of touches before striking the ball past a hapless Syazwan Buhari.
However, it was not a comeback to be as Nakamura made the final statement of this enthralling encounter by angling the ball from distance to the far corner of Zaiful's net.
As soon as the final whistle was blown, the Geylang International players fell to their knees as their efforts were not matched by the result.
But the Eagles could not dwell on this setback for long as they have to quickly focus on their remaining group games against the Cheetahs and the Jaguars and bring in the points to minimally qualify as Group B runners-up.
Man of the match: Rio Sakuma - Amid the chaos in Geylang International's defensive third, the 25-year-old central defender stood firm and composed throughout the game. While his defending teammates struggled to cope with Tampines Rovers' attacking moves, Sakuma took command of the backline and broke up the Stags attacks with timely interceptions. He even added an enterprising side to his game by joining the Eagles' attack whenever possible.