"Game on for Asia!" That was the warning fired by Geylang International to their fourth-placed rivals Balestier Khalsa after the former thumped Brunei DPMM 2-1 on Friday night (July 28) to bring them just three points away from a potential ticket to next season's AFC Cup.
With the Singapore flag waved high in the air by the Ultras Eagles in celebration of the nation's looming 58th birthday, it was apt for two local boys, Gareth Low and Naufal Azman, to deliver the goals against the Bruneian outfit.
A surprise inclusion as the attacking midfielder in the starting 11, Low's undistinguished career has persisted doubts on his playing abilities despite his tireless contributions to the team. But it was his quick, sharp turn in the middle of the pitch that led him to score the opening goal in the 20th minute.
Receiving the loose ball in a pocket of space, Low strode forward before opting a pass to Yushi Yamaya on the right flank. He then got to the end of Yamaya's cross in the six-yard box to score with a thumping header.
Fadli Kamis then handed the Wasps a lifeline past the half-hour mark when he floored Helmi Zambin in the box. A mind game then ensued between Hafiz Ahmad and Hakeme Yazid, in which the former sowed doubts in the mind of the penalty taker on which direction to strike by gesturing both ways. The psychological warfare was won by the 1.73m shotstopper as he guessed the right direction and superbly dive to deny the effort.
A chance then fell to Naufal Azman to double Geylang's lead in first-half injury time but his strike from inside the box came off the upright.
The 25-year-old Singaporean forward did not let the miss affect him too much as he came out of the second half recharged and scored three minutes after the interval, courtesy of a pinpoint threaded pass from the left by Yamaya.
With the attending Eagles supporters and those watching on broadcast having to endure the discomforts of high humidity and tropical heat, their hope of a respite with the Eagles' two-goal lead was not to be as the usually reliable Amirul Adli was to make their evening end on an even more uncomfortable note. His poor marking in the 84th minute led to a Brunei DPMM goal while his needless rugby tackle incurred a second yellow, causing his 10 remaining teammates to barely survive a late Wasps onslaught in the final minutes.
The Geylang camp hope they do not have to pay the price for Amirul's dismissal when they face runaway leaders Albirex Niigata in five days' time.
Man of the match: Iqbal Hussain - The mercurial forward may not have been on the scoresheet or on the assist chart, but his high work rate in creating chances for his teammates and putting a record high of five shots in the match has left fans impressed. Feeling sympathetic after seeing two of his efforts strike the post and a couple more saved by the opposing keeper, the Ultras Eagles broke into cheers late in the game encouraging Iqbal to not give up in his search for goals. One hopes for Iqbal to have better goalscoring luck in the White Swans fixture.