Written by: Ryan Low
Croatian marksman Stipe Plazibat came back to haunt his old side Hougang United once again as he scored to help Home United achieve a 2-0 victory at Hougang Stadium in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League on Sunday night.
That was the 28-year-old’s fourth goal in as many games against the Cheetahs in 2017, with Abdil Qaiyyim scoring the other as Home kept their faint S.League title hopes alive.
The Protectors were rather below-par in the first half and failed to produce a single shot on target.
In contrast, Hougang were sharper in attack and almost scored through Faiz Salleh and Fabian Kwok in the first 20 minutes.
The Cheetahs almost opened the scoring on the stroke of half time, but Fumiya Kogure could only head wide from Zulfahmi Arifin’s teasing free kick.
Home would wake up from their slumber in the second half and duly broke the deadlock on 54 minutes.
Plazibat intelligently flicked on Izzdin Shafiq’s inswinging corner into the path of Abdil, who had the easy task of nodding past Khairuhin Khalid from close range.
Buoyed by the goal, the Protectors pushed forward and went close through Plazibat and substitute Iqram Rifqi.
Hougang coach Philippe Aw reacted by bringing on Pablo Rodriguez to add bite into the Cheetahs’ attack, but the Spanish forward lasted just nine minutes before succumbing to injury.
Home would duly double their lead on 69 minutes, with Plazibat breaking free of Hougang’s offside trap before rounding Khairulhin for his 33rd goal in all competitions.
The 28-year-old could have ended the night with a brace, but his attempted lob on 76 minutes came agonisingly off the bar.
That miss did not matter as Home stayed four points behind second-placed Tampines, reducing the gap between them and leaders Albirex Niigata (S) to ten points with two games in hand.
Meanwhile Hougang remained in sixth, four points adrift of both Warriors FC and Geylang International.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “All it took was a goal from a corner that changed the game, it was the same thing when Home visited us earlier in April. Generally, I don’t think we were outplayed.
“We wanted to be defensively sound, defend with numbers and make things difficult for Home. The only threat in the first half they had was from (Sirina) Camara down the left. It’s disappointing that the goal came in that manner, through a long ball behind our defence from which we conceded a corner.
“We still want to aim for fourth and it’s still possible. We’re four points behind Warriors and Geylang, with some tough matches coming up. But we’re going into each game trying to win.”
Home United Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “The national team players were away and we had limited training time with them. But those players who stayed did a lot of runs in MacRitchie and East Coast, that’s why they’re still running after 90 minutes.
“We did not do well in the first half, so we spoke at half time not to lose the ball because Hougang’s a very compact team. Second half, the performance was much better. Anu (M. Anumanthan) was playing in first game in months and he did a good job for us.
“It’s difficult to be champions, but I’m happy with the progress of the team since I took over. I changed the players’ mentality, there’s no more developmental team – it’s all about winning. We’ve done well with our players getting noticed by overseas clubs.”
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Delwinder Singh, Atsushi Shirota, Zulfahmi Arifin, Nazrul Nazari, Syahiran Miswan, Fabian Kwok, Faiz Salleh (Ali Hudzaifi 62’), Nurhilmi Jasni (C) (Pablo Rodriguez 66’, Fairoz Hasan 75’), Fumiya Kogure, Iqbal Hussain
Home United: Hassan Sunny (GK, C), Aqhari Abdullah, Abdil Qaiyyim, Hariss Harun, Juma’at Jantan (Iqram Rifqi 57’), Faris Ramli, Izzdin Shafiq (Haziq Azman 90’), M. Anumanthan, Sirina Camara (Sufianto Salleh 75’), Adam Swandi, Stipe Plazibat