Hougang United FC’s bid for their first home win of the season was denied by a dramatic late comeback by Balestier Khalsa FC on Wednesday night.
Antoine Viterale’s first-half strike put the hosts on track to win at Hougang Stadium for the first time in 11 months, but Balestier scored two goals in two minutes late on through Zakir Samsudin and Hazzuwan Halim to wrest away all three points.
Determined to give the Hougang HOOLS something to cheer about, the Cheetahs started with all guns blazing and it was no surprise when they opened the scoring on 26 minutes.
Having already headed a good chance wide, Viterale made amends with a superb stooping header off Captain Faiz Salleh’s deep cross into the area to beat goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
That was the French-Italian forward’s first-ever Great Eastern Singapore Premier League (SPL) goal, ending a 23-game goal drought in all competitions as Hougang led for just the second time at home this season.
Hougang dominated proceedings after the break, with Iqbal Hussain and Viterale denied by Zaiful, only for the visitors to grab a shock equaliser against the run of play in controversial circumstances.
Nurullah Hussein’s foul on Hougang’s South Korean forward Chang Jo Yoon in the build-up went unpunished by referee Juherman Zaiton on 74 minutes and the Tigers played on.
New signing Zakir took full advantage to wallop a speculative shot from just outside the box, which evaded Hougang custodian Zulfairuuz Rudy before crashing in off the post.
Disaster struck just a minute later. Zulfairuuz, who was carrying a gluteus injury from the first half, totally missed the ball in an attempted clearance, leaving Hazzuwan with a gaping goal to tap in his fourth of the season.
Hougang introduced experienced forward Fazrul Nawaz but they simply could not find the equaliser despite late pressure.
Substitute Fabian Kwok could not keep his volley down after a half-cleared corner on 87 minutes, before Fareez Farhan somehow lashed over from eight yards a minute later.
Kwok had the final chance to steal a point seven minutes into injury time, but his header from Fareez’s inswinging corner flew off target.
That paved the way for some unsavoury scenes at full time between both sets of players, but the customary post-match handshakes still went on as Hougang were left to rue what could have been.
The Cheetahs remain eight points adrift at the bottom and will now go away to face Brunei DPMM FC at Bandar Seri Begawan on Saturday night, while Balestier host Warriors FC the following evening.Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “It’s not a good thing to say that the officials cost us the game, but it’s a fact and I can’t deny it. I understand the referees need games, but you can’t put all three inexperienced officials (excluding the fourth official) in one game. You can juggle and maybe put at least one experienced official in.
“We were leading 1-0 and because of something that the referee did not see or did not give, it cost us the game. How can my player (Chang) be falling forward if no one is pushing him? His (Nurullah’s) hands and legs were all over him. If I’m a player on the pitch, I will be demoralised when these things happen.
“I’ve been supporting the refs… Without them, there is no SPL. But they need to make correct decisions. I hope the referees’ department does something about it.
“Every point counts for us and that’s frustrating for us. My players are taking this defeat badly, so am I. At the end of the day, I can say a lot of things but nothing changes. Life goes on. Characters are built when the team is down.”
Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “Winning without playing well… It’s beautiful! Hougang’s standing (in the table) does not show on the pitch – they have very good players and it’s not easy to play against them. In the first half, we never used the space behind them, we were moving the ball very slowly and predictably… we were second best to everything.
“But in the second half, we changed our tactics and the boys showed character to win the game. These players work extra hard in training so sometimes luck just happens on the pitch for us..”
Hougang: Zulfairuuz Rudy (GK) (Ridhuan Barudin 77’), Muhaimin Suhaimi, Illyas Lee, Ashrul Syafeeq (Fabian Kwok 58’), Faiz Salleh (C), Syahiran Miswan (Fazrul Nawaz 82’), Antoine Viterale, Iqbal Hussain, Justin Hui, Fareez Farhan, Chang Jo Yoon.
Unused subs: Nurhilmi Jasni, Syukri Bashir, Amri Zalani, Shahfiq Ghani.
Balestier: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Nurullah Hussein, Sufianto Salleh, Fariz Faizal (Khalili Khalif 73’), Nurisham Jupri, Vrebac Sanjin, Noor Akid Nordin (Zakir Samsudin 46’), Hazzuwan Halim (Sheikh Abdul Hadi 90’), Keegan Linderboom.