TAMPINES ROVERS 4
SHEIKH JAMAL 0
For all the pre-season hype about Jermaine Pennant being S-League's biggest marquee signing, he still had to show that his football skills match his reputation when it matters.
Yesterday at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the former English Premier League winger did just that, thrilling a 2,378-strong crowd as his Tampines Rovers side thrashed Bangladeshi champions Lt Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club 4-0 in their AFC Cup Group E opener.
Previously restricted to a substitute appearance in his first S-League game, and then just 12 minutes in his next match which was halted because of a waterlogged pitch, he finally showed just why Tampines made him their most expensive player ever, with one assist and a big hand in two more.
No wonder Stags coach V. Sundramoorthy was full of admiration for the 33-year-old, saying: "Pennant was great today with his defence-splitting passes.
"That's why he played for Liverpool."
Team-mate Afiq Yunos, who scored Tampines' third goal following a goal-mouth melee from a Pennant corner, was also effusive in his praise.
Said the defender: "He is one of the main players we look for to help us to score, and he did just that with his crosses and passes. He is a great boost to us."
Against Sheikh Jamal, who were playing their first competitive game of their season, Tampines flew out of the blocks and went ahead in the second minute.
Pennant cleverly dummied over the ball on the right flank, giving Fabian Kwok the time and space to whip in a cross for Billy Mehmet to score his second goal for the club.
Buoyed by the early goal, the Stags' attacking trio of Pennant, Mehmet and Christopher van Huizen were a constant menace to the Sheikh Jamal defenders.
Mehmet then turned provider for their second goal, crossing from the right flank for Hafiz Abu Sujad to stoop low and head home in the 33rd minute.
Afiq toe-poked in the third in the 52nd minute, before Pennant's cross resulted in an own goal for Topu Barman just a minute later.
The win will certainly boost Tampines' bid to make it out of the group stage for the first time since 2011. Said Sundram: "It was good to start the opening game with a win but I feel that we can do better and I believe that as the season goes, we can improve on this performance.
"We must be more clinical because goal difference may become a factor when it comes down to the crunch."
Sheikh Jamal coach Shafiqul Islam Manik lamented his team's lack of preparation, saying: "There was miscommunication among my defenders. We conceded silly goals."
The Stags will next travel to face Malaysia Cup holders Selangor on March 8, while Sheikh Jamal will entertain Philippine league champions Ceres La Salle. Selangor were held 2-2 by the Filipino team last night in Bacolod City.
Singapore's other representative in the AFC Cup, Balestier Khalsa, also drew 2-2 away to New Radiant SC of Maldives in Group F.