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Match Review: Gutsy Eagles Spar White Swans to 2-2 Draw

Photo credit: Idi Bakhtiar

A series of officiating calls that went against Geylang International in the contest's dying minutes robbed the away side of a rare victory against Albirex Niigata at the Jurong East Stadium on Sunday (August 14).

A Tadanari Lee strike in the last kick of the game - following two contentious refereeing decisions in injury time - means that the Eagles have to settle for a point.

The draw puts the sixth-placed side to within five points from the AFC Cup qualification spot, currently held by Tanjong Pagar United in third position.

Geylang International headed into the Battle of the Birds in determined mood to keep their continental hopes alive, having suffered a derby defeat from the previous week which punctuated their recent resurgence.

The gutsy side put up a stiff resistance against their heavily favoured opponents in the first half, which neutralised the attacking threats posed by Golden Boot-chasing Kodai Tanaka and in-form Ilhan Fandi.

With the opposing forwards restricted to carving half-chances, Zaiful Nizam was largely untroubled between the sticks in the first period.

Buoyed by their performance in keeping the title contenders at bay, the Eagles returned to the pitch for the second half with a more adventurous approach.

The visitors fired a warning shot four minutes after the restart. Sime Zuzul drove a fierce shot from the right, which was palmed to safety by Japanese goalkeeper Takahiro Koga.

Geylang International kept up with the intensity and managed to crack open the Albirex Niigata defence a couple of minutes later.

Receiving a pass from Huzaifah Aziz on the edge of the box, Zuzul spotted his strike partner Vincent Bezecourt and squared the ball to him. The Frenchman then dispatched a sweet strike with his left foot towards the bottom left corner of the net.

Sensing that the league title was in danger of slipping away from the White Swans' grasp, their head coach, Kazuaki Yoshinoga, threw ex-Japan international Lee into the fray.

The former Southampton man made an immediate impact when he lofted the ball into the path of Ilhan, who then applied the finishing touch from a tight angle.

Not to be daunted by the equaliser, the Eagles fought on and put their noses in front again in the 71st minute.

Having assisted earlier in the match, Zuzul grabbed the opportunity to score one himself when he bundled in the box under the challenge of his marker Jun Kobayashi.

The Croatian poacher made no mistake from the spot and he maintained his perfect record of penalty conversion this season.

Taking the lead for the second time with 20 minutes or so remaining on the clock, Geylang International gaffer Noor Ali was determined to see the game out with a priceless victory.

The 47-year-old tactician introduced Umar Akhbar to shield the defence from an impending Albirex Niigata onslaught.

However, the defensive midfielder's appearance lasted for a mere 10 minutes when he was shown the red card during injury time for mouthing "colourful" words to a linesman.

Defending stoutly with a man short in the final minutes, the Eagles' valiant efforts were to be undone by a referee's decision in not stopping play for a foul on Tajeli Salamat.

After the right-back was brought down by a sliding tackle, an Albirex Niigata player quickly sent a deep cross into the box for a last-ditch attack. Lee was on the receiving end of it and diverted the ball beyond the despairing dive of Zaiful.

Noor reacted in fury to the consequence of the referee's inaction by smashing a water bottle on the touchline.

Despite the late equaliser, Geylang International can take heart from a point gained considering their underdog status.

The Eagles have to keep up their improved showing and bring in the points when they face two winnable opponents in the form of Balestier Khalsa and Young Lions in back-to-back home fixtures.

Man of the match: Sime Zuzul - Geylang International's top goalscorer is in red-hot form as he notched his seventh goal in as many games, reprising the scoring streak he had with Balestier Khalsa last season. The Croatian hotshot has also struck a telepathic understanding with his strike partner Vincent Bezecourt, as seen in his assist for the Frenchman's goal.

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