SINGAPORE - Two months ago, Tampines Rovers had beaten Hougang United 5-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium on March 3 when Hougang midfielder Justin Hui was sent off in the 50th minute.
On Sunday (May 5), the two Singapore Premier League (SPL) teams served up another six-goal feast at Our Tampines Hub.
It was another red card early in the second half which opened up the game and, once again, Hougang left the pitch wondering what might have been.
The Cheetahs had to settle for a 3-3 draw with the Stags despite having twice led by two goals with an extra man on the field following Tampines midfielder Yasir Hanapi's red card in the 51st minute.
A frustrated Hougang coach Clement Teo said: "We took our foot off the pedal a little and, psychologically, we were not strong enough.
"We knew we were 3-1 up and playing against 10 men and, if we switch off, we will be punished by a team like Tampines."
The first half was was akin to a cagey game of chess with both sides wary of making a mistake. Hougang drew first blood through South Korean defender Kong Ho-won, who headed home from a corner in the 30th minute.
Following Yasir's second yellow card for a needless tug on Muhaimin Suhaimi, Faris Ramli made it 2-0 with a beautiful curler in the 56th minute, only for Shah Shahiran to reply for Tampines a minute later with a shot that went in off the post.
Faris then saw another fine curling effort in the 63rd minute cannon off the crossbar, but he restored Hougang's two-goal advantage a minute later when he turned home Muhaimin's pinpoint cross for his eighth goal of the season.
But Tampines refused to roll over even with the numerical disadvantage. First, Zehrudin Mehmedovic swept home in the 67th minute before another substitute Khairul Amri completed the comeback in the 70th minute when he tapped in a cut-back by Jordan Webb.
Seconds before Amri's equaliser, Hougang striker Stipe Plazibat had beaten the Stags' offside trap only to see his shot come off the upright and out for a goal kick.
On losing their two-goal advantage twice, Teo said: "Definitely, this is not something the players are proud of and neither am I."
Tampines coach Gavin Lee said he was "massively proud" of his charges, particularly after a difficult midweek game in the AFC Cup against Myanmarese champions Yangon United, which they won 4-3 in injury time.
"The second half was an emotional roller coaster but, as coaches, we have to stay calm and do what we have to," he said. "We came out with a plan to attack and, even though we were a man down, that strategy didn't change.
"We were confident in what we wanted to do, and we just had to take a little more (risk). To go toe-to-toe over 90 minutes with a fresher side is really good."
In Sunday's other match, Albirex Niigata beat Geylang United 2-0 to leapfrog both Tampines and Hougang into second place on 17 points, six points behind leaders Brunei DPMM.
Third-placed Hougang have 16 points while Tampines (13) are fourth.