<Photo Credit: Leo Shengwei>
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 0
Not every football match needs goals to be a thriller. In yet another positive advertisement for the S.League, 2,139 fans witnessed Geylang International and Albirex Niigata duke it out in an entertaining encounter at the Bedok Stadium for a share of the spoils.
The lack of goals was definitely not for want of trying.
Inside the opening two minutes, Sahil Suhaimi and Isa Halim already tested Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, who was excellent throughout the match. And when he was beaten in the 25th minute, the woodwork came to the rescue to deny Carlos Delgado. Five minutes later, Nozawa was required though, to turn away Delgado's shot that was bound for the top corner.
The Japanese custodian later repelled efforts from Branko Cubrilo, Stanely Ng and Faritz Hameed in the second half.
It wasn't all just one-way traffic as former Geylang winger Tatsuro Inui got on the end of Masaya Jitozono's 70th-minute free-kick, only to find the upright in the way.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any more exciting, the game further exploded into life in the last 20 minutes. Referee Sukhbir Singh added another controversial feather to his cap when he waved away three penalty appeals by Cubrilo, Sahil and Gabriel Quak.
Eagles coach Hasrin Jailani, whether he was frustrated with the referee's decision or his players' profligacy is open to interpretation, lost his cool, took his anger out on some water bottles in his technical area, and was dismissed by Sukhbir who seemed to regard a legitimate expression of emotions as dissent.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo conceded his team were second best on the night, and said: "I'm disappointed because we made many mistakes and couldn't get into our rhythm.
"Considering all these, one point is a good result for us."
The result meant both teams kept their unbeaten records and Albirex and Geylang remained in the top two respectively but Eagles assistant coach Noor Ali was unhappier with the fact that they failed to score and win the match than he was pleased with his team's third successive clean sheet.
Matter-of-factly, he said: "We should have collected the three points tonight."
Regardless, the S.League's resurgence continues in the sense that there seems to be a truly competitive field outside of the developmental Garena Young Lions.
In last night's other match, Hougang United, whom many expected to struggle because of their pre-season results, beat the Young Lions 3-1 to climb to the dizzying heights of third place.
Even bottom side Balestier Khalsa are proving a tough nut to crack, and caused a huge upset by beating Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee SC 1-0 in a midweek AFC Cup group match.
In the stands, Geylang supporters also showed their creativity to match their team's resurgence, responding to the S.League's hardline stance regarding sparklers by coordinating their cheers with mobile phone flashlights.
The big question is: Can the fans' interest and the S.League's revival be sustained?
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL: Syazwan Buhari, Faritz Hameed, Shariff Samad, Yuki Ichikawa, Daniel Bennett, Isa Halim, Nor Azli Yusoff (Safirul Sulaiman 73), Stanely Ng (Gabriel Quak 68), Carlos Delgado (Shawal Anuar 83), Branko Cubrilo, Sahil Suhaimi
ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Tomoki Menda, Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine, Mikiya Yamada, Masaya Jitozono, Shuto Inaba (Rui Kumada 88), Naofumi Tanaka, Tatsuro Inui (Hiroyoshi Kamata 76), Kento Nagasaki, Atsushi Kawata