In three separate games against Brunei DPMM, Vuk Sotirovic has scored Hougang United’s solitary goal in a win, a draw and now a loss after the Cheetahs were defeated by the league leaders at Hougang Stadium on Tuesday evening.
It took an own goal and a penalty kick for the league table leaders to grind out a hard fought win. Kenneth Chang was the common factor in both goals as he suffered the misfortune of diverting a header into his own net in the first half before conceding the penalty through an unintentional handball in the box after the interval.
This was Hougang United’s first back-to-back loss since the end of their ten games winless streak in May. Unfortunately, the team is now in another winless streak stretching five games since last August.
The Line Ups
With a tight schedule of four games in ten days, head coach Salim Moin unsurprisingly elected to rotate some of his players. Carlos Delgado, Fazli Jaffar and Nurhilmi Jasni were rested while Delwinder Singh was unavailable for selection due to national service obligations. In their place were Tengku Mushahdad, Fareez Farhan, Yuki Uchiyama and Chang.
Tengku returned to the starting line-up after missing the previous two games but instead of playing in his usual centreback role, he was entrusted to play defensive midfield alongside Atsushi Shimono. This was presumably a tactical choice by Salim as Tengku’s height in deep midfield would have been helpful against Brunei DPMM’s familiar long ball approach.
For Fareez, this was his first start in nine games with six substitute appearances in between. Prime League defender Yuki was back in the S.League side for the first time since the 4:1 win over Warriors in early August while Chang was making his first start since the Cheetahs were knocked out from the League Cup tournament in early July.
Steve Kean by contrast made only one change to the side that played out an entertaining 4:4 draw with Home United on Saturday. In place of regular right back Aminuddin Zakwan was Helmi Zambin, who was making his seventh start of the season.
The First Half
Chang’s night actually started off brightly as he made a vital interception in the 8th minute of the game. A long ball from Brian McLean saw Paulo Sergio heading the ball down onto an unmarked Azwan Ali’s path but Chang was able to get to the ball first to clear it away. The action immediately shifted to the other end with the clearance culminating in a deep cross from Ruzaini Zainal that was just a little too far for Sotirovic to direct towards goal.
The Wasps had the better chances thereafter as Azwan sent a shot just wide off the near post while Rafael Ramazotti struck the far post a minute later after being served up by Joe Gamble. In the 27th minute of the game, a long ball from Rosmin Kamis sent Ramazotti clear and onside with only an advancing Ridhuan Barudin to beat. The goalkeeper did well to intercept and recover the ball.
There was nothing that Ridhuan could have done for the opening goal four minutes later though. From a deep free kick, Sergio sent a long ball into Hougang United’s box. McLean connected with a header, directing the ball towards his centreback partner Boris Raspudic. In an attempt to block Boris from receiving the ball, Chang inadvertently headed the ball right into his own net.
Hougang United responded with two good chances, the first only three minutes after going behind. Another deep cross found an unmarked Sotirovic in the middle of the box but his volley was parried away by Wardun Yussof. The Wasps goalkeeper impressed again in the 43rd minute with another save against a volley, this time from Fareez outside the box following a clearance from a free kick.
The Second Half
The Cheetahs equalized in six minutes following the resumption of play. A free kick won by Sotirovic five yards from the edge of the box was taken by Sotirovic himself. With his right foot, he struck a curler that floated into the back of the net. Such was the quality of the goal that Wardun had not even budged an inch.
Brunei DPMM upped the pressure thereafter as they lay siege to Hougang United’s box. On the receiving end of a long ball from Gamble, Sergio dribbled and shot from distance in the 65th minute only for Ridhuan to produce a good save. A minute later, Azwan Ali shook off two defenders as he dribbled into the box but his shot was also saved by an exemplary Ridhuan. In the 69th minute, a cross from Gamble ping ponged from Ramazotti to Azwan and back to Ramazotti again but the latter’s shot was wide off the far post.
The visitors shouted for a penalty in the 70th minute after Sergio went down under pressure from Yuki but the referee evidently thought otherwise. Two minutes later though, the Wasps did receive a penalty when a cross from Sairol Sahari was deflected off Chang’s foot onto his hand. Ramazotti took the resulting spot kick. The competition’s top scorer was never going to miss from the spot and sure enough, Brunei DPMM regained their lead.
The home side suffered a further blow in the following minute when Sotirovic had to be substituted off after suffering a knock from a high ball challenge. Despite sending Kunihiro upfront in the final minutes of the game, there would be no second equalizer for the Cheetahs.
Hougang United will next play Geylang International at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday evening.
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Yuki Uchiyama, Kenneth Chang, Kunihiro Yamashita, Faiz Salleh, Ruzaini Zainal (Muhaymin Salim 56′), Atsushi Shimono, Tengku Mushadad (Goh Swee Swee 74′), Fareez Farhan, Vuk Sotirovic (Taufiq Ghani 73′), Diego Gama
Brunei DPMM: Wardun Yussof, Helmi Zambin, Boris Raspudic, Brian McLean, Sairol Sahari (Azwan Saleh 73′), Maududi Hilmi, Joe Gamble, Rosmin Kamis, Azwan Ali, Paulo Sergio, Rafael Ramazotti
Video credit: S.League