TAMPINES ROVERS 4
(Fazrul Nawaz 37, Jordan Webb 45, Billy Mehmet 63, Jermaine Pennant 79)
BRUNEI DPMM 3
(Azwan Ali 43, Rafael Ramazotti 57, 70)
The S.League was awaiting a response from Tampines Rovers after Albirex Niigata beat Warriors FC 3-2 to lead the table by 10 points, and last night, the Stags delivered a resounding statement that they are not going to give up the title race without a fight.
Delivering on his promise to deliver more attacking impetus, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas showed there can be life after V Sundramoorthy, who has now gone on to be national football coach.
Forwards Fazrul Nawaz, Jordan Webb, Billy Mehmet and Jermaine Pennant all scored to win a ding-dong match in which defending champions Brunei DPMM FC seemed to have an answer for every thing the hosts through at them at the Jurong West Stadium.
It may have taken 37 minutes for Tampines to open the scoring when Fabian Kwok released Webb with a nice through ball and the latter squared for Fazrul to finish, but thereafter, the floodgates well and truly opened as the Bruneians equalised six minutes later via Azwan Ali's brilliant curler.
Tampines were not done yet and took the lead again just before half time, when Webb headed in off Pennant's free kick to give the home team the psychological advantage going into the break.
But once again, the visitors rallied and replied through Rafael Ramazotti, who headed in off the post in the 57th minute, only for Tampines to pull ahead six minutes later when Hafiz Sujad played a good one-two with Fazrul before crossing for Mehmet to score from close range.
The goals never stopped coming as DPMM equalised for a third time after Paulo Sergio pickpocketed Afiq Yunos in the 70th minute and set up Ramazotti to score his second of the night and eighth of the season.
But there was no denying Tampines, who grabbed the winner in the 79th minute after Hafiz conjured another assist as his lovely flick unleashed Pennant who finished precisely into the bottom corner to keep his team in the hunt as they remain in second place on 25 points, seven behind leaders Albirex.
"There was so much pressure building up towards the game and winning definitely takes a load off," said Akbar.
"We love to attack but there were some really nervy moments. In the end, a 4-3 win is a positive result but the game could have gone either way. We are still a work in progress and there are definitely certain parts of our game we need to look at and improve. For now, we'll look at the positives, try and strike a balance and do even better next time."
While there is still hope of landing the S.League title for the hosts, DPMM FC coach Steve Kean came as close as ever to waving the white flag as far as his team's title defence is concerned, as they sit in sixth place on 18 points, 14 behind Albirex and having played one game more.
He said: "I'm disappointed because we saw a dramatic improvement in our attacking play but we fell down today in terms of defending as a team. We were much better today against a very good side.
"Retaining the title is getting more difficult but maybe a new competition will come at the right time for us now and that could be in the form of the cup competitions."
Elsewhere, the Garena Young Lions held high-flying Home United to continue their own resurgence as they extended their unbeaten run over 90 minutes to four games.
Patrick Hesse's developmental squad probably felt they should have won the game after seniors Khairul Amri and Firdaus Kasman put them 2-0 up after goals in the 22nd and 48th minute respectively.
But the Protectors dug deep, pulled one back through Khairul Nizam, Amri's half brother, in the 52nd minute, before Ken Ilso rescued the point with his 10th league goal of the season in the final minute. However, while they remain third, they are now 10 points behind Albirex, while the Young Lions missed the chance to move off the bottom and are still behind Balestier Khalsa on goal difference with eight points.
TAMPINES ROVERS: Joey Sim, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Afiq Yunos, Jordan Webb (Ismadi Mukhtar 85), Yasir Hanapi, Fabian Kwok (Irwan Shah 82), Christopher van Huizen (Hafiz Sujad 40), Jermaine Pennant, Fazrul Nawaz, Billy Mehmet
BRUNEI DPMM: Wardun Yussof, Aminuddin Zakwan, Yura Indera Putera, Brian McLean, Najib Tarif, Rosmin Kamis, Hendra Azam (Maududi Hilmi 61), Azwan Saleh (Shahrazen Said 73), Paulo Sergio, Azwan Ali (Helmi Zambin 80), Rafael Ramazotti
<Photo credits: S.League>