Hougang United and Young Lions both came from behind in an entertaining contest as they played out a 2:2 draw at Hougang Stadium on the 1st of October. The match had been postponed from the previous night due to the ongoing haze enveloping the country but on this night, the haze only delayed the kick off from 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
And what a kick off it was. Within 12 seconds, Nurhilmi Jasni had given the Cheetahs the lead. There had been only three pases before the shot at goal. The Young Lions responded following the interval with another quick goal, this time by Afiq Noor. Shameer Aziq then gave the visitors the lead just a few minutes later only for Nurhilmi to equalize with a header.
The two teams had entered this match hoping to gain a 3 points advantage over the other but at the final whistle, they found themselves still level on points in the S.League table with the Cheetahs ahead on goal difference.
The Line Ups
Head coach Salim Moin made three changes from the side that lost 0:1 to Home United two weeks earlier. In the absence of an injured Fairoz Hasan, Fazli Jaffar returned to the starting eleven for the first time in four games. Right back Faizal Amir made his first appearance since receiving a red card in the 0:1 win over Harimau Muda at Melacca. To accommodate Faizal’s return, Delwinder Singh shifted from right back to centre back. This was only the second time that Delwinder had partnered Kunihiro Yamashita at the back. The previous occasion was in the same game against Harimau Muda in mid-August.
For the Young Lions, joint top scorer Jordan Webb made his first appearance after sitting out two games through suspension while centre midfielder Nur Na’iim Ishak made his first start since their 0:2 loss to Home United in July. Ammirul Emmran also made a return to the starting line up after sitting out their previous game on the bench. One notable absence for the development side was another of their joint top scorer Adam Swandi, who had been called up for national service. The third joint top scorer, Amy Recha, had already enlisted a few weeks earlier.
The game exploded to life right from the start as Hougang United grabbed the lead in just 12 seconds from the whistle. Vuk Sotirovic had kicked off the ball to Diego Gama, who delivered a back pass to Carlos Delgado. From a distance, the Argentinian playmaker struck a long through pass to Nurhilmi, who pulled clear of a napping Young Lions backline. The Cheetahs’ captain bypassed an advancing Syazwan Buhari before slotting the ball into the net.
Vuk had two opportunities to double the lead. He shook off two markers in the 7th minute but his effort from the edge of the box was wide by mere inches. 15 minutes later, Nurhilmi found Vuk unmarked and clear but Syazwan did well to intercept and parry the Serbian’s shot.
Fazli Jaffar had a crack at goal too from a free kick won by Vuk but the left midfielder’s shot was comfortably collected by the Young Lions custodian. Diego’s effort from another set piece was wide off the post.
With one touch of the ball, Jordan turned a pass from Farhan Rahmat into a lob for Safirul Sulaiman. Afforded space and time, Safirul was able to struck a cross that found Shameer, who in turn delivered a lob to Afiq Noor right in the middle of the box. Surrounded by four Cheetahs but none close enough to him, Afiq’s right footed shot found the back of the net and the Young Lions were level within a minute after the interval.
Three minutes later, they were a goal ahead. From the middle of the field, Jordan played a pass to Fadli Kamis before receiving the ball back as he raced down the right flank, speeding ahead of a tracking Fazli. Cutting inwards on the touchline, Jordan delivered a pass to Shameer. Four Cheetahs were in the box ball watching and oblivious to the presence of Shameer – or for that matter, Nur Na’iima as well. With a low shot that evaded Ridhuan at the near post, Shameer secured his third goal in as many games and he has now joined level with Jordan, Adam and Amy as the Young Lions’ top scorer.
Both Jordan and Shameer had an opportunity to break clear as their team’s outright top scorer in the 56th minute. After receiving a cross from the right, Jordan struck the near post while Shameer’s effort from the rebound blazed above the crossbar.
The two goals prompted Salim to replace Lau Meng Meng with Faiz Salleh. This was Faiz’s first appearance since he was injured in the 4:0 defeat to Home United in mid-May – the last of the Cheetahs’ winless streak at the start of the season. Since then, the team had not lost twice in a row and just as it appeared as if they were about to do so in this match, Vuk produced a moment of magic from out of nowhere. Not a flashy move but an industrious one. For nearly ten seconds, he held the ball up on his own, twisting and turning to keep the ball from Amirul Adli and then Afiq as well. Vuk’s hold up skills even attracted a third Young Lions, Farhan, to approach. All that attention on Vuk resulte in Carlos being unmarked in close proximity. One pass later and Carlos was able to deliver a cross to Nurhilmi, who headed into goal to get his brace and the Cheetahs’ equalizer.
Nurhilmi was forced off the field early in the 82nd minute after getting a muscle cramp during a chaotic goalmouth scramble in the Young Lions box but he had already done enough. The captain has now scored his third goal in as many games – and rather strikingly, Nurhilmi has been the only goalscorer for Hougang United in all three of those games. The feat is even more remarkable given that he had previously netted only once in his 22 games of the season.
Hougang United will next play Tampines Rovers on the 17th of October at Jurong West Stadium.
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Faizal Amir, Kunihiro Yamashita, Delwinder Singh, Lau Meng Meng (Faiz Salleh 55′), Nurhilmi Jasni (C) (Ruzaini Zainal 82′), Carlos Delgado, Atsushi Shimono, Fazli Jaffar (Muhaymin Salim 70′), Diego Gama, Vuk Sotirovic
Courts Young Lions: Syazwan Buhari (C), Fadli Kamis, Amirul Adli, M. Anumanthan, Farhan Rahmat (Sherif El-Masri 76′), Ammirul Emmran, Afiq Mat Noor, Shameer Aziq (Suria Prakash 69′), Jordan Webb, Saifirul Sulaiman, Nur Na’iim Ishak (Shahfiq Ghani 67′)
Video credit: S.League