Photo Credit: Football Association of Singapore
It has been a slow start to the season for ambitious Hougang, who find themselves at the bottom of the table with just one point from their opening three matches.
After a 1-1 home draw against Warriors FC, the Cheetahs proceeded to fall to a heavy 4-0 away defeat to title-chasing Tampines Rovers FC on Wednesday night.
While there are obvious weaknesses in the Hougang rearguard, the more glaring deficiencies for Philippe Aw’s side lie in attack – their only goal this season came from the penalty spot.
The Cheetahs have good attacking talents like Fareez Farhan, Shahfiq Ghani and Iqbal Hussain at their disposal, but lack a player who can deliver the killer pass after losing playmakers Fumiya Kogure and Azhar Sairudin in the off-season.
Nonetheless Hougang vice-captain Fabian Kwok is confident that the Cheetahs’ class of 2018 has what it takes to work out a winning formula.
“We have a young team with lots of potential,” the 29-year-old said. “Now it’s a matter of having the confidence to keep going at it and I believe the goals will come gradually.
“We are frustrated by this start to the season but it just shows that we have a desire to do better. Thankfully there are 21 more matches to go, so there’s time for us to bounce back.”
Next up for Hougang is a tough clash against Balestier – a side on a roll after winning their past two matches.
Foreign attacking imports Vedran Mesec and Keegan Linderboom have already opened their accounts for the Tigers as they currently sit fifth – level on points with Tampines, Brunei DPMM FC and Young Lions.
It may still be early days, but all signs are pointing towards a much more positive campaign for Balestier after two consecutive seasons in the lower echelons of the table. In 2017, they won just five matches and scored only 17 en-route to finishing seventh.
They have also shown a willingness to blood in rookies, with the likes of Afiq Salman Tan, Noor Akid Nordin, Fariz Faizal and Sharin Majid all getting game time.
The standout has been Shaqi Sulaiman, who has impressed with his sturdy performances at centre-back and is looking forward to taking on his old employers on Sunday night.
“It’s a bittersweet moment because both Coach Philippe and Coach Robin (Chitrakar – Hougang’s head of youth (Centre of Excellence)) have helped me in my development,” said the former Hougang Prime League player.
“Both of them taught me how to build out from the back and to be comfortable on the ball. I’m thankful for their support but I’m not going to hold back from anything in this game as I’ll be playing for the badge on my chest.”
TEAM NEWS Hougang will continue to miss the services of Jordan Chan who is recovering from a shoulder operation, while French-Italian forward Antoine Viterale and first-choice goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid remain doubtful after their recent injuries.
In contrast, Balestier have a clean bill of health for this one.
02/11/17: Hougang 0-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
29/07/17: Balestier 0-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
27/04/17: Hougang 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
01/10/16: Hougang 1-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
25/07/16: Hougang 2-1 Balestier – League Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Iqbal Hussain – Hougang
The season has not gone to plan so far for Iqbal, who is now the focal point of Hougang’s attack following Pablo Rodriguez’s departure. Nonetheless the 24-year-old is a special talent with nifty dribbling skills and has a powerful left-footed shot in his locker, as he hunts his first SPL goal.
Hazzuwan Halim – Balestier
It is always tough to follow up on an impressive individual campaign but Hazzuwan seems to have carried on from where he left off. The 2017 Young Player of the Year has been the spark in the Tigers’ attack in their last two games and he will aim to score against the Cheetahs for a second time in a row.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Hougang midfielder Fabian Kwok: “What’s done is done, now we need to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time round. The spirit in the dressing room is building up and I sense that we’ll put up a tougher fight in our upcoming games.
“It’s crucial to get a result against Balestier as the gap is starting to open up in the table and we want to stay as close as possible to the pack. They have two big attackers and a bunch of determined local players so it won’t be a walk in the pack. But we’re ready to compete and do our best to earn our first three points.”
Balestier defender Shaqi Sulaiman: “The seniors and coaching staff have helped me a lot to build my confidence during training and to bring it into my game. I’m happy to be playing alongside (Sheikh Abdul) Hadi in defence because he commands and communicates very well. On my right side, there’s Fadli (Kamis) who also guides me during the game and makes it easier for me.
“Confidence is definitely high after two wins but we can’t get it in our heads as there are no easy games at this level. We’ll go into this game wanting the three points, just like any other game.”