Tampines Rovers let slip a chance to overtake Albirex Niigata (S) at the S.League summit, with Fumiya Kogure striking two minutes into injury time to give Hougang United a shock 2-1 win at Jurong West Stadium on Wednesday night.
Hougang came into this game in high spirits after bouncing back from two goals down to beat Home United 4-2 last Friday and they duly took a shock lead midway through the first half.
Skipper Jozef Kaplan broke free down the right before producing an excellent low cross into the box for Croatian forward Stipe Plazibat to tap home his 13th goal of the season.
Tampines, however, recovered well and went close on two occasions before restoring parity right on the stroke of half-time.
Izzdin Shafiq’s teasing free kick picked out Jordan Webb, who easily climbed over his marker to nod past Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin for his third goal in as many games.
Despite the setback just before the break, Hougang returned for the second half with vigour and almost retook the lead on 62 minutes.
Iqbal Hussain’s close-range shot took a deflection off Jufri Taha before hitting the left upright. The loose ball fell to Kogure, who tried to wriggle free in the six-yard box but was blocked off by the alert Afiq Yunos.
Tampines then had the ball in the net four minutes later when Afiq Yunos headed in via Webb’s knock-on, but the latter was penalised for fouling his marker.
Stags forward Fazrul Nawaz was then carried off due to injury late on and that gave Hougang belief they could find a winner.
And that they did, as 2015 S.League Player of the Year Kogure strode onto a superb outside foot pass from Iqbal before firing low past onrushing Tampines custodian Izwan Mahbud to send the travelling fans into delirium.
To rub salt into Tampines’ wounds, forward Billy Mehmet was sent off after the final whistle and will miss the next two games of the title run-in.
The result means Tampines stay a point behind leaders Albirex, while Hougang climbed two spots to third – which may qualify them for the 2017 AFC Cup.
Stags coach Akbar Nawas admitted his side did not perform well, but backed them to bounce back for the remaining five games of the season.
“There were too many unforced errors from my side,” said the 41-year-old.
“Our players have a certain calibre. So apart from me protecting them, they have to ask themselves, to dig deep and reflect because they are experience professional players.
“We’ve been running out of luck for the last few games, so it’s good to flush it all out and prepare for the next game. It’s important now we get back down to earth, see where we went wrong and take it positively.”
Ecstatic Hougang counterpart K Balagumaran singled out Iqbal for setting up the match-winning goal, but is not looking too far ahead for now.
“It’s amazing now Iqbal is scoring goals, giving great balls and amazing passes,” commented the 51-year-old. “His diagonal passes with the outside foot was like (R) Suriamurthi and (S) Rajagopal. I did not expect him to make that kind of pass (for the winning goal) and it was out of this world.
“I’m happy with the way we played against a very strong team today. I spoke to them after the win against Home that they must have the same desire and focus if they want to finish in the top three.
“We’re in a good position (to qualify for the AFC Cup), but we’re not putting pressure on the players. Now we just need to stay focused for our next game against (Brunei) DPMM.”
Match Report by FourFourTwo Kenneth Tan
Photos courtesy of Haiqal Tahir