Stags rescue a point as Pennant makes debut
Tampines salvage a point in thriller as big crowd witness some Pennant play
TAMPINES ROVERS 3
(Jordan Webb 13, Billy Mehmet 34, Yasir Hanapi 86)
GEYLANG INT'L 3
(Amy Recha 35, Carlos Delgado 55, Stanely Ng 79)
Singapore coach Bernd Stange was there, so was Sport Singapore chairman Richard Seow.
Also spotted at the Jurong West Stadium last night were Fandi Ahmad and his son Irfan, Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling and even former Singapore international defender Precious Emuejeraye.
They were just some of the estimated 2,900 fans who turned up for Tampines Rovers' Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League opener, as V Sundramoorthy's star-studded side entertained Geylang International.
In all likelihood, many were there to catch former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant making his S.League debut for Tampines.
But it wasn't the 33-year-old who got the crowd to the edge of their seats, it was the football - and drama - served up in a 3-3 thriller that saw crunching tackles, two red cards, some glimpses of potential being realised and an early contender for Goal of the Season by Stags' midfielder Yasir Hanapi.
While disappointed with the result, Tampines coach Sundram was excited at the turnout.
"(The last time I saw a crowd like this) was when I was playing in the S.League," said the 50-year-old former Singapore attacking sensation.
"Jermaine played a part, our LionsXII players played a part, and the media did too, with all the attention you gave to the league.
"But, if every game was a 3-3 or has four goals, the fans will surely come back to watch."
It was not a typical Sundram side who walked out onto the heavy pitch last night. Instead, fans witnessed a team more intent on attacking than setting up tight defensive lines.
The Stags were made uncomfortable by the excellent Nor Azli Yusoff and the rest of the hard-tackling Geylang side that were set up to spoil.
But they did manage to take a two-goal lead, only to concede immediately after the second strike.
The enterprising Amy Recha stole possession in the 35th minute before cutting in to score and revive the spirit of the Eagles.
Pennant was standing on the sidelines in the 55th minute ready to come in for Fazrul Nawaz, and help consolidate the Stags' position but, even before he stepped in, Geylang equalised through Carlos Delgado.
With Stags' skipper Noh Rahman ejected for a second bookable offence in the 59th minute and Geylang taking the lead through Stanely Ng (79th), Tampines had their work cut out.
But their quality shone through, with Yasir scoring with a sweetly struck volley that prompted many in the crowd to stand as it dipped and swerved into the far corner of the Geylang goal.
He ruined his night by receiving his marching orders for appearing to swing an elbow at Geylang's Gabriel Quak with just a minute remaining.
"Even with nine players (on the pitch), they still tried to attack and score. Tampines have 22 good players... and they are a good attacking force," said Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani, audibly hoarse after his efforts on the touchline.
"They are a force to be reckoned with, I'm not disappointed. I'm actually very happy with my players' performance," added the rookie S.League head coach.
Sundram, on the other hand, rued what could have been.
"When we conceded that first goal, it changed the complexion of the game. If we had kept our composure (at 2-0 up) and not made those defensive mistakes, we would've won," he said.
"We have great attacking players but, unfortunately, football is not only about attacking," added Sundram, who won the 2013 Malaysian Super League title on a platform of disciplined defending.
But he will not change his attacking approach.
"We have a different set of players now, with different qualities, and we must be more adventurous," he said.
Pennant, who got through some 38 minutes of action despite being frequently fouled, called for more protection from the referees.
"I don't mind taking kicks and fouls, but just that the same players who do that continue to get away with it," he said, explaining his remonstrations with referee Sukhbir Singh.
"If you don't give a card, they'll continue to do it. It's not just for me, it'll be more enjoyable for the fans as well to see flowing football."
"But my teammates said, 'Don't worry about it, we'll protect you'," he added.
"I've got an army behind me now, so bring it on."
- TAMPINES ROVERS: Izwan Mahbud, Irwan Shah (Christopher van Huizen 84), Noh Rahman, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Shahdan Sulaiman, Yasir Hanapi, Izzdin Shafiq, Jordan Webb, Fazrul Nawaz (Jermaine Pennant 56), Billy Mehmet
- GEYLANG: Syazwan Buhari, Faritz Hameed, Shariff Samat, Yuki Ichikawa, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Nor Azli Yusoff, Amy Recha, Safirul Sulaiman (Gabriel Quak 58), Carlos Delgado, Sahil Suhaimi (Stanely Ng 38), Branko Cubrilo (Taufiq Ghani 80).