A belated fight from Geylang International was not enough to erase a three-goal deficit and rescue at least a point against Tanjong Pagar United, as the home side fell to a 3-2 defeat at Our Tampines Hub on Sunday (May 21).
After the Jaguars raced to a wide winning margin inside the first 45 minutes of the contest, the Eagles, having woken up from their slumber, staged a late fightback but could only muster a goal apiece from Vincent Bezecourt and Delwinder Singh.
Heading into the clash on a two-game losing streak, Geylang were hit by injuries to defensive rock Rio Sakuma and midfield workhorse Huzaifah Aziz, and their absences were telling in the opening half as the understrength side were bullied all over the pitch.
This was exemplified by Tanjong Pagar's first goal in the 10th minute when 1.9m strongman Mirko Sugic outmuscled Iqbal Hussain to the ball near the half-way line, evaded Joshua Pereira's tackle on the edge of the penalty box, before squaring it to Khairul Amri to finish the move.
Poor Iqbal was once more a victim to Sugic's big frame as the clock ticked towards first-half injury time.
Under pressure by Sugic while attempting to head the ball away from danger, Iqbal could only clear as far as Blake Ricciuto who headed the ball back into the danger zone where the Croat was lurking. Sugic, who had been eyeing on the loose ball, then executed a well-timed volley to the far side of the goal.
Still slow off the blocks despite the latest setback, the Eagles found themselves three-nil down a minute later. With the hosts sleepwalking around the field after Hafiz rushed out of goal to clear the ball for a throw-in, Khairul reacted the fastest by taking a quick throw towards Marin Mudrazija, who in turn lobbed over the backpeddling keeper and into the empty net.
Just as the game seemed dead and buried before the half-time whistle, Vincent Bezecourt kept alive Geylang's faint hopes of a comeback when he caught everyone offguard by unleashing a fierce rocket from 18 yards to the top corner of the goal.
Substitute Singh tried to best his French compatriot's outrageous effort midway through the second half as he conjured a stupendous piledriver of his own which rippled the roof of the net.
Roared on by the Ultras Eagles, with crowd favourite Sakuma joining the ranks, Gareth Low thought that he had netted that elusive equaliser as the game entered into injury time.
To the dismay of many at the Eagles Nest, the goal was ruled offside after a review by the video assistant referee.
As a Geylang fan said in jest in a post-match chat on Whatsapp, the fallen Singaporean giants could have won the match if there was to be a "third half".
That being said, it was the team's inability to deal with the pace and physicality of the Jaguars in the first period that ultimately sealed their fate.
Man of the match: Vincent Bezecourt - The French midfield maestro showed the greatest hunger and desire to win the game. His rocket strike in the last kick of the first half gave hope to his teammates that the match could still be rescued, though it was not to be. Named as MoM for the first time this campaign, the 2022 Fans' Player of the Season has to channel the same level of energy for the remaining half of the league matches as he helps his fifth-placed club to at least a respectable top-half finish in a nine-team table.