Hougang United might not have ended their ongoing winless streak but they did brought an end to their three games losing streak as they took points off Balestier Khalsa for the first time this season. An opening goal from Yuki Uchiyama was nullified by a late equalizer from Fadhil Noh as the two sides fought out a 1:1 draw at Hougang Stadium on Sunday evening.
For Balestier Khalsa, this draw following a loss to Home United have seen them dropping five points in their last two games, a heavy blow for their title challenge. They remain in second place, five points behind Brunei DPMM who have a game in hand over their rivals.
For Hougang United, this was their first point earned in four games. They have now conceded a goal in each of their last seven games, their second winless streak of the year. On a more positive side, the result meant that Tampines Rovers remain the only club with a perfect record against the Cheetahs this season.
The Line Ups
Kunihiro Yamashita was restored to the starting line up after a one game absence. Fazli Jaffar also made a return to the first eleven for the first time in three games while Muhaymin Salim was handed his first start since the team was knocked out of the Singapore Cup competition back in late May. Carlos Delgado was on the bench while Diego Gama was dropped from the line-up altogether
At first glance of the announced line-up, one could be forgiven for presuming that Yamashita would be partnering Delwinder Singh at centreback with Ruzaini Zainal in midfield and Muhaymin upfront with Vuk Sotirovic. That was not the case, however. In a surprising move, head coach Salim Moin elected to continue the same backline from their previous game while pushing Yamashita to play as a forward alongside Sotirovic.
Balestier Khalsa were missing Poh Yi Feng through suspension but they were able to welcome back former Cheetahs Igor Cerina to their line-up after he had served out a suspension of his own. Ridwan Jamil and Ignatius Ang were also in their starting line up after the former had missed their previous game while the latter only featured as a substitute.
Both sides started the game with a quick pace as they searched for an early goal. Sotirovic slid in a low cross in the 4th minute for Yamashita but Zaiful Nizam was ready to intercept the ball. Just three minutes later, Zulkiffli Hassim latched onto the end of a through ball and raced towards the penalty box but his long range effort went sailing over the crossbar. Another long distance shot, this time from Tarik Cmajcanin, went straight to Ridhuan Barudin in the 11th minute.
The game slowed down thereafter as both sides exercised more restraint. With the two teams playing a similar long ball game, the ball bounced from one end to another in rapid succession but chances were few thanks to quick clearances from defenders and goalkeepers. At the 26th minute mark, Ridhuan had to broke out of his penalty box to clear away a dangerous ball before Ignatius could get to it.
As in the preceding 45 minutes, the Cheetahs had the first close chance following the interval. Captain Nurhilmi Jasni made an impressive dribble to get past Hazzuwan Halim before unleashing a curler from just inside the box that went narrowly wide in the 53rd minute. A quarter of an hour later, a clearance from Sotirovic saw Yusiskandar Yusop attempting an ambitious shot from the centre circle that forced Ridhuan to collect the ball right on the goalline.
The breakthrough came in the 73rd minute from a corner taken by Fazli Jaffar. At the far post, Uchiyama rose above Ridwan to head the ball into the net. This was the Prime League defender’s second goal for the Cheetahs this year. His first had came all the way back in the team’s second competitive game of the season, a 1:1 draw with Home United in early March. The goal also gave Fazli his first assist since his return to Hougang United in June.
There was a golden opportunity in the 78th minute for the home side to double their lead when they broke off in a 4 on 2 counter. From the middle, Sotirovic played the ball wide to Nurhilmi, who crossed in for Fazli at the other end only for the latter’s shot to be parried away by Zaiful.
Just when it appeared the Cheetahs were about to pull off a win, Balestier Khalsa found a late equalier at the 89th minute. A corner saw Emir Lotinac heading the ball wayward only for Fadhil Noh to beat Faiz Salleh to the ball. With a turn and a dribble, Fadhil then drove the ball into the net for his fourth goal of the season. Four minutes of injury time were added but the scoreline remained unchanged.
Hougang United will next play Harimau Muda at Hougang Stadium on the 6th of November, Friday.
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Faiz Salleh, Delwinder Singh, Atsushi Shimono, Ruzaini Zainal (Tengku Mushadad 69′), Fazli Jaffar, Nurhilmi Jasni, Atsushi Shimono, Muhaymin Salim (Carlos Delgado 72′), Kunihiro Yamashita, Vuk Sotirovic
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Yusiskandar Yusop, Hanafi Salleh, Emir Lotinac, Igor Cerina, Ridwan Jamil (Danial Tan 76′), Zulkiffli Hassim (Hazzuwan Halim 46′), Ignatius Ang (Fadhil Noh 69′), Tarik Cmajcanin, Miroslav Kristic, Robert Pericic