Stipe Plazibat has a hand in all three goals as Hougang United edged out title-chasing Albirex Niigata 2-1 in their Singapore Premier League match at the Jurong East Stadium on Saturday (July 13).
The forward opened the scoring in the 25th minute from the penalty spot before stealing in behind the hosts' defence to coolly slot home in the 31st minute for his sixth goal of the season.
After the break, the Croat was the villain when a weak back pass was pounced on by Albirex's Zamani Zamri to score past goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin in the 54th minute.
"My heart stopped when it happened. I did not see the forward when I passed the ball back to the goalkeeper," said Plazibat. "I was praying to finish the game with three points so it's a relief that we kept our focus and saw it through."
The 29-year-old dropped back into midfield in the closing stages as the Cheetahs clung on, with the depleted Albirex having a goal disallowed for offside on 85 minutes.
Hougang head coach Clement Teo hailed his side's ability to hold on for the win, saying: "The boys did well and they did what is needed after our defeat by the Young Lions.
"Albirex gave us a hard time but the boys were brilliant today. They executed the game plan well, showed commitment and took their chances well."
The result pushed Hougang up to third in the nine-team table on 26 points, four behind Albirex who lost ground as leaders Brunei DPMM opened up a four-point gap after their 1-0 win over the Young Lions on Saturday.
White Swans coach Keiji Shigetomi, missing key players like Shuhei Sasahara and Daizo Horikoshi, lamented his team's lack of incisiveness in front of goal.
He said: "I told the team that there are a lot of supporters at our home game today and we cannot embarrass ourselves.
"We conceded two soft goals in the first half and it left us on the back foot. The players worked very hard but, if you don't take your chances, it is very difficult to win.
"They have to work on their precision in the final third and press harder in the following games."