Both sides squandered chances but goals from the lanky Frenchman and Shotaro Ihata leaves the Malaysian Under-23s ruing their profligacy
Home United handed Harimau Muda their first defeat of the campaign with a 2-1 victory at the Bishan Stadium in an enthralling encounter between the strongest attack and stingiest defence in the league.
The victory sent Home to second place, within two points of league leaders Brunei DPMM FC.
Top scorer Shotaro Ihata opened the scoring for the home side, but the Young Tigers rallied in the second-half through Ahmad Hazwan’s wonder goal.
Just as Harimau Muda looked to preserve their unbeaten status, one shared only by Brunei DPMM, Frederic Mendy ensured that the Protectors returned to winning ways with a well-placed goal.
The match opened to an energetic start by the visitors, whose youthful energy and closing-down play dominated proceedings.
The home side, however, defended resolutely, with captain Shi Jiayi a calming influence in midfield.
It did not take long before Shi’s attacking pedigree showed through, as he whipped in a delicious cross in the 10th minute which Mendy agonisingly failed to connect with.
That was inconsequential two minutes later, when Shi once again whipped in an inviting ball into the area. The gangly Frenchman unselfishly headed it back across goal to find a waiting Ihata, who smashed it in emphatically.
Home could have doubled their lead minutes later, after Mendy threaded a ball through for Indra Sahdan, but the veteran striker’s shot was well saved by Izham Tarmizi.
Harimau Muda, to their credit, battled back valiantly, with Wan Zack Haikal a constant threat down the left and the architect of numerous goal-scoring opportunities, which were wastefully squandered by the likes of Ahmad Hazwan, Thamil Arasu, and D. Saarvindran.
Wan Zack tried to take things into his own hands in the 31st minute, unleashing a Ronaldo-esque belter that gyrated through the air before hitting the upright, past a statuesque Lionel Lewis.
He was to be denied once again three minutes later, his header blocked at the far post by a commanding Kenji Arai.
Home United would be thanking their lucky stars to have 11 players on the pitch at half-time as Mendy went in dangerously against Amer Saidin. The Parisian had his studs up and was duly booked, much to the ire of the lively away fans.
Mendy was proving to be a thorn in Harimau’s defence, his physical presence instrumental in many of the Protector’s plays. A Shi Jiayi corner found Arai in the 48th minute who headed the ball onto the former Etoile star, but the big man failed to convert the tap in.
As if to exact punishment on Home United’s profligacy, Ahmad Hazwan fired in a goal of the highest quality. After dispossessing Firdaus Idros in the midfield, the 21-year old striker unleashed a screamer from outside the area, past a helpless Lewis.
With the Home defence looking considerably shaken, the Young Tigers surged forward with renewed purpose, with Saarvindran and Haikal taking turns testing the keeper.
Their resurgence, however, was short-lived, as Harimau’s tormentor-in-chief Frederic Mendy silenced the away fans as he slid home the winning goal, leaving Harimau to rue the many chances left begging.