Hougang United qualified for the semi-finals of the 2015 The New Paper League Cup despite being held to a 1:1 draw by National Football League Division 1 side Singapore Recreation Club on Thursday night at Hougang Stadium.
A draw was all that Hougang United required to progress in the competition but ultimately, even the solitary point was unnecessary after Geylang International defeated Brunei DPMM 4:2 at Jalan Besar Stadium. Before kick off, a minute of silence was observed at both games as a mark of respect for Nadesan Ganesan. The former chairman of the Football Association of Singapore chairman had passed away the previous morning at the age of 82.
With Singapore Recreation Club packing their defence with numbers, the first half was a stifling and uneventful contest with chances few at either end. Vuk Sotirovic had the only shot on target in the 13th minute but it was impressively tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Zainol Gulam. Both Fazli Jaffar and Fairoz Hasan made eye catching runs but their final touch was poor with the former sending his cross too wide and deep while Fairoz’s through ball to Vuk was flagged by the linesman for offside.
Hougang United had to make an early substitution either side of the interval as their two strikers Diego Gama and Vuk Sotirovic were forced off with injuries in the 39th and 54th minute respectively. They were replaced by Muhaymin Salim and Carlos Delgado, who had been on the bench after recovering from a groin injury.
There were several other changes to the Hougang United side that had defeated Brunei and drew with Geylang. Kunihiro Yamashita made his return after missing five games due to a hamstring pull. Lau Meng Meng, Faizal Amir, and Nurhilmi Jasni also returned to the starting line-up while Fazli Jaffar started for Hougang United for the first time since he rejoined the club in the mid-season transfer window.
The game came to life in the second half as more space was opened up to both teams after Singapore Recreation Club started attacking more. Their efforts were rewarded in the 64th minute after they had won a corner. From the ensuing cross, Kunihiro headed the ball out but only as far as Samuel Balls. The ball returned to the box and former Hougang United centreback Shariff Samat headed the ball across for Matthew Hemmingway to score with a header of his own, much to the elation of the club’s sizable group of supporters at the stadium. It was the first time that an NFL side had scored a goal in this year’s League Cup competition.
Hougang United rallied after going behind and piled the pressure on their opposition. Al-Aminnur Ibrahim, who had replaced Zainol in goal, made a vital save with when he denied a strike from Nurhilmi in the 83rd minute but there was nothing he could do to stop Kenneth Chang in the 90th minute. A long ball from the halfway line was delivered by substitute Tengku Mushadad into the box. Kunihiro headed the ball downwards and Kenneth pounced to score his first ever goal for the Cheetahs. For the second game in a row, Hougang United had scored a late equalizer to draw level and gain a point.
Despite qualifying for the semi-finals, head coach Salim Moin was naturally displeased with his side’s performance and lamented that his players had been too complacent. He nonetheless was full of praise for the opposition. “My congratulations to the SRC because they played well. They were a very well disciplined team. Well organised. They really worked as a unit.”
It was a historic game for Singapore Recreation Club as they became the first NFL side to secure a point in the history of the League Cup competition.
Geylang International will meet Albirex Niigata (S) in the first semi-final on Sunday night while Hougang United will face Balestier Khalsa in the other semi-final on Monday night. Both games will be played at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Faizal Amir, Kenneth Chang, Kunihiro Yamashita, Lau Meng Meng, Nurhilmi Jasni, Fairoz Hasan (C) (Tengku Mushadad 71′), Atsushi Shimono, Fazli Jaffar, Diego Gama (Muhaymin Salim 38′), Vuk Sotirovic (Carlos Delgado 54′)
Singapore Recreation Club: Zainol Gulam (Al-Aminnur Ibrahim 81′), Zulkarnain Malik, Shariff Samat, Precious Emuejeraye, Faliq Sudhir (C), Samuel Balls, Firman Hanif, Nurul Islam (Khyruddin Khalid 76′), Anders Aplin, Nazirul Islam, Michael Hemmingway