Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Hougang United returned to winning ways in the 2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League after they edged Balestier Khalsa 1-0 at the Hougang Stadium on Thursday night.
Having lost three consecutive matches coming into this, Nurhilmi Jasni’s first-half strike was enough for the Cheetahs to put an end to their losing run in the league and go three points clear of Balestier in the standings.
Hougang started the game brightly and should have gone ahead after one minute but Antoine Viterale’s effort was blocked by Huzaifah Aziz.
In the 11th minute, Nazrul Nazari latched onto Fumiya Kogure’s pass on the right before cutting in for a left-footed shot that Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam was equal to.
The Tigers conjured their first opportunity of the night in the 23rd minute when Ashrul Syafeeq rose highest to meet Raihan Rahman’s free-kick, but could only glance a header wide.
Nurhilmi saw his effort blocked for a corner two minutes later, before Hazzuwan Halim then somehow fluffed his shot in the box after Hanafi Akbar had done well to set him up in the 34th minute.
There was however, no denying Nurhilmi as he netted the opener six minutes before the break when his header off Kogure’s corner found the back of the net via a heavy deflection off Ashrul Syafeeq.
The hosts nearly went two up just before half-time when Viterale exchanged a quick one-two with Nurhilmi, but contrived to fire straight at Zaiful instead.
Balestier came out after the restart determined to level things but Raihan’s fierce shot in the 47th minute was pushed around the post by Khairulhin, before Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit headed wide from the resulting corner.
Chances were few and far between thereafter as Hazzuwan broke free of the Hougang defence after a mazy run, but hit a shot that went harmlessly wide in the 61st minute.
The match was then paused for about half an hour due to lightning risk, but it was the same story when it resumed.
Balestier pushed forward in numbers in the closing stages in search of an equaliser and Shah Hirul nearly rescued a point for his side deep into stoppage time.
The midfielder however, could only head wide off Raihan’s free-kick as Hougang hung on for their first victory in four games.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “I felt we controlled the game today. To be honest, Khai(rulhin) Khalid had only one save to make, which was off Raihan’s (Rahman) shot. Other than that, Balestier didn’t trouble us.
“For us, what was lacking was the final ball. We managed to get into the final third, but the ball or the runs we made were not good enough.”