Both teams had entered this match desperate for a win. Home United had gone four games without a win, though this paled in significance next to Hougang United’s run of nine games without a win.
The heavy loss came as something of a surprise. Hougang had lost five times this season but four of those defeats were from a one goal difference with the sole exception being a 2:0 loss to Tampines Rovers. In addition, Home United Home United had not scored in four games but once they burst the dam, the goals came flooding in.
The first goal arrived in the 21st minute. Ambroise Begue received the ball at the edge of the box. Three Hougang United players converged on him but the French forward evaded them with a 180 degrees turn and a dribble before delivering a short pass to Azhar Sairuddin, who was also positioned at the edge of the penalty area. Azhar played a defence splitting pass back to Ambroise and the latter’s shot was too powerful for Hougang United’s goalkeeper, Ridhuan Barudin.
Home United smelled blood and kept the pressure on. In the 24th minute, Ambroise came racing down the left flank before laying a pass through Faiz Salleh’s legs to Sirina Camara. The latter’s low cross went past six players from both sides before it was cleared by Lau Meng Meng. The ball returned to Ambroise but his long distance shot was blocked by Ridhuan.
Less than a minute later though, Home United got their second goal. From 25 yards out, Azhar delivered a through ball to an unmarked Ambroise Begue. Ambroise’s left footed shot at the far post was spot on. In the space of four minutes, Hougang United’s shaky defence had provided three opportunities for the Frenchman to shoot from a similar position on the far side of their penalty box.
In the 31st minute, Juma’at Jantan delivered another through ball to a merciless Ambroise. Racing ahead of Hougang’s defenders, he delivered a cross into the box. Kamel Ramdani was expecting the ball but it was Yuki Uchiyama who inadvertently slotted the ball in for an own goal.
That was the cue for Hougang United’s head coach, Salim Moin, to shake things up. He replaced Uchiyama with Fairoz Hasan in the 35th minute, shifting defensive midfielder Renshi Yamaguchi back to play as a centre back with Kenneth Chang. The absence of their first choice centre back Kunihiro Yamashita due to a training session injury had proved costly for the Cheetahs.
Salim Moin had elected to field a team without Equatorial Guinean striker Francisco Ela, who had only scored twice in the team’s previous nine games. Leading the line upfront was local forward Muhaymin Salim, playing ahead of Fareez Farhan on the left, Nurhilmi Jasni in the middle, and Manato Takahashi on the right. This quartet was ineffectual up front with their only close chance arriving early in the game when Nurhilmi’s high ball from the edge of the box was met by Muhaymin at the six yard line. His header was eight feet wide over the goalpost.
Muhaymin won a free kick 20 yards out in the 43rd minute but Fairoz’s shot at the bottom left corner was saved easily by Hyrulnizam Juma’at. It was the first meaningful save from Home United’s goalkeeper.
At the interval, Fareez Farhan was replaced by Francisco Ela and the new quartet had more close chances in the second half though none resulted in the ball landing at the back of the net. Francisco delivered a deep cross from the left with pinpoint accuracy only for Takahashi’s leaping header to go three feet over the goalpost. Closer but not close enough. Yet to score a competitive goal for Hougang United, the diminutive Japanese striker was visibly frustrated with his own effort.
In the 58th minute, Home United showed their opponents how to score with a header. Sirina Camara’s cross was met by a racing Azhar at the six yard line and his close range header drove the ball into goal. Azhar had no qualms about celebrating a goal scored against his former club. Having started only twice this season and without any goals or assists to his credit in 207 minutes of playing time, Azhar’s goal and two assists in this game suggested that he was highly motivated to prove his worth to both his former and current clubs.
It was not just Ambroise and Azhar who menaced Hougang’s defence. Sirina was a constant danger throughout the night on the left wing, overpowering and outmatching Hougang’s right back, Faiz Salleh. In the 61st minute, a collision between the two resulted in an injury to Faiz Salleh, who had to be stretched off the pitch and replaced by Ruzaini Zainal.
That was Hougang United’s final substitution for the game. At the same time, Home United made their first change, replacing Juma’at Jantan with Ang Zhi Wei. Azhar and Ambroise earned a well deserved early rest when they were substituted in the 69th and 74th minute by Nur Hizami and Sufianto Salleh respectively. The string of changes resulted in a slower pace to the game with Home United contend to defend against Hougang United’s futile efforts.
Takahashi arguably had Hougang United’s best chance in the game at the 65th minute mark. Rounding past Zhi Wei, Takahashi found himself in a one-on-one situation against Hyrulnizam but the Home United goalkeeper managed to block the ensuing low shot.
Takahashi had another opportunity in the 85th minute. A through ball from Nurhilmi found the Japanese forward beating the offside trap. He raced forward but could only reach the ball close to the touchline. From the tight angle, Takahashi’s cross inward evaded Hyrulnizam and was cleared dangerously by Rajandran Aaravin. The ball was mere inches away from entering the net as it bounced high up in the air and out for a corner.
Ken Ilso, who had scored four goals in four games for Home United, was sitting on the bench but after missing six games due to injury, his head coach Phillipe Aw was not rushing him back into action. Despite missing the presence of a key forward, Home United had achieved what no other team had done this season, inflicting a heavy defeat on Hougang United.
Home United: Hyrulnizam Juma’at, Redzwan Atan, Song Uiyong, Juma’at Jantan (C) (Ang Zhi Wei 61′), Abdil Qaiyyim, Azhar Sairudin (Nur Hizami 69′), Yasir Hanapi, Sirina Camara, Ambroise Begue (Sufianto Salleh 74′), Kamel Ramdani, Rajandran Aaravin
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Renshi Yamaguchi, Muhaymin Salim, Shunsuke Nakatake, Manato Takahashi, Fareez Farhan (Francisco Ela 46′), Kenneth Chang, Faiz Salleh (Ruzaini Zainal 64′), Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Lau Meng Meng, Yuki Uchiyama (Fairoz Hasan 35′)