Hougang United 1
Brunei DPMM 2
They may be out of the S-League title race this season but last year's champions Brunei DPMM still showed their championship character when they pulled off a comeback victory against Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
The 2-1 victory, which sees DPMM stay in third in the nine-team table on 32 points, also extends their unbeaten run to six matches (four wins and two draws). Hougang sit four points behind them in fifth spot but hold a game in hand.
It was Hougang who started brightly, scoring through striker Stipe Plazibat - the Croatian's 14th goal of the season - after just nine minutes following a pass from fellow forward Iqbal Hussain.
Also proving a thorn in DPMM's side was the third man in the Cheetahs' attacking trident - Fumiya Kogure. Last season's Player of the Year constantly got the better of DPMM's left-back Najib Taif to find space to run, and release the ball in the penalty area.
The second half, however, saw the Bruneian side fighting back as the Wasps, coached by former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean, pressed high up the pitch.
NOT GIVING UP
We still have to play Tampines and we'll chase them down as much as we can. The important thing for us was to win tonight's game and keep our unbeaten run going.
STEVE KEAN, Brunei DPMM coach, on keeping up with Tampines.
Striker Rafael Ramazotti equalised in the 51st minute, scoring from a rebound after his initial shot was parried by goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin.
Just two minutes later, Ridhuan was caught stranded after he misread Azwan Salleh's long pass, allowing Brazilian Ramazotti to outjump him and nod the ball home for his 16th of the campaign.
The Cheetahs tried to recover and Kogure was frustrated as the Japanese player missed two open goals that could have given his team the win.
With four games left and trailing second-placed Tampines Rovers by eight points, Kean wants his men to overtake the Stags.
He said: "We're not giving up on second spot (DPMM are eight points behind Tampines Rovers). The target I've set for the players is to remain unbeaten for the rest of the season. We still have to play Tampines and we'll chase them down as much as we can. The important thing for us was to win tonight's game and keep our unbeaten run going."
Hougang coach K. Balagumaran did not blame his men for the loss. He said: "As a whole, the team did fight until the last minute. They really wanted to come away with a point at least. I've to give credit to the boys in the first half and second half. Our chances were better than DPMM's and we pushed more but unfortunately, that's how it is."
In yesterday's other match, a seven-goal thriller saw seventh-placed Warriors beat bottom-side Garena Young Lions 5-2 at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.