Perennial strugglers Hougang United made a statement of intent last night after a 4-2 win over Home United made them serious contenders to clinch a third-place S-League finish and an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup qualifying spot.
The win at Jalan Besar Stadium moved the Cheetahs up to fifth in the nine-team table on 25 points, just one point behind third-placed Brunei DPMM.
With current leaders Albirex Niigata close to sealing a top-two finish, third place in the league is likely to be enough for local teams to land one of two spots to play in next season's AFC Cup.
Hougang coach K. Balagumaran is not thinking so far ahead. He said: "I don't want to think about the table now because one game can change everything. The players are focusing on the matches ahead."
The Protectors went ahead early through Ken Ilso (6th minute) and Song Ui Young (7th). Hougang fought back with two Stipe Plazibat penalties (39th and 44th).
On both occasions, Home left-back Sirina Camara illegally brought down Hougang winger Nazrul Nazari in the box.
After the break, Hougang's attacking trio of Fumiya Kogure, Iqbal Hussain and Plazibat hit their stride as their trickery and pace confused the Protectors' backline.
A wonder strike from Iqbal (52nd) and a Kogure volley four minutes later sealed victory. Home remain fourth on 25 points, ahead of Hougang on goal difference.
Home coach Aidil Sharin lamented: "I'm very disappointed and I'll take the blame for the result.
"As much as we want to win matches, we have to keep clean sheets also and we didn't achieve that today. The penalties motivated (Hougang) to come back and it gave them the belief."
Balagumaran was delighted with his team's fighting spirit.
He said: "The penalties were a crucial turning point. The two early goals (we conceded) were down to individual mistakes. Going into the break from 2-0 down to 2-2 boosts players, psychologically.
"I'm proud of the team because of the character they showed to mount a fight - like we've done so many times over the season."
In another S-League match yesterday, Tampines Rovers closed the gap on Albirex to one point when they picked up a 3-2 win over Warriors FC at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.