Geylang International had to fight tooth and nail against Balestier Khalsa at Bishan Stadium on Friday night (June 23), to earn a priceless victory that kept them within touching distance of their fourth-placed rivals - currently a two-point gap, albeit with a game in hand.
Despite trailing by a goal at half-time and playing with a man short for the remaining 30 minutes of the contest, the spirited Eagles refused to throw in the towel and surprised even their most ardent supporters by prevailing as 3-2 winners.
Geylang's chances in securing a favourable result were understandably downplayed by their own fans ahead of this fixture, given their wretched run of form - collecting only three points from a possible 15 - and the unavailability of their key defenders due to injury and contractual issues.
The fallen Singaporean giants' disarray was ripe for the picking as the Tigers drew first blood in the 36th minute. New signing Danish Irfan, who stood in as centre-back for the injured Amirul Adli and departed Delwinder Singh, dwelled on the ball and carelessly lost it to 'Jumbo' Shuhei Hoshino. The defensive mistake proved costly as the 1.83m target man subsequently squared for Ho Wai Loon to tap in a simple finish.
With the Eagles being too predictable in their wing-play attack and not putting enough shots to test opposing goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan, head coach Noor Ali decided to rejig his attacking unit during the half-time interval by hauling off the misfiring Naufal Azman in place of Shahfiq Ghani.
His substitution worked an instant treat as Geylang scored two quickfire goals to overturn their one-goal deficit inside the first eight minutes of the second half.
Deployed as a false nine, Shahfiq served as the perfect foil for Yushi Yamaya as the latter was able to find space on the right flank to fire in the equaliser. Shortly after, the former Young Lions prodigy found Vincent Bezecourt with a perfectly timed through-pass which the Frenchman clinically angled past Hairul.
Controversy struck past the hour mark as Geylang went a man down after the match official harshly sent Danish his marching orders for a 'soft' offence on his opponent.
To the blessing of the away side, more magic was to come from Shahfiq as he connected with Fadli Kamis' cross to bullet a header into the far corner of the net.
But Geylang barely had time to heave a breather with Balestier pulling one goal back late on through Masahiro Sugita. A nail-biting finish ensued which saw Hafiz Ahmad putting a match-winning save to deny Ryoya Taniguchi from close range.
Man of the match: Shahfiq Ghani - Once named as Man of the Match by football legend Pele, the 31-year-old midfielder rolled back the good old years as he helped his club see off the challenge of the Tigers with a goal and an assist in an inspired substitute appearance.