Hougang United FC suffered their second loss of the season after going down 2-0 to Albirex Niigata (S) in their Round 6 of the 2016 Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League campaign.
The Cheetahs preparation for the match was hampered by injuries to Raihan Rahman and Delwinder Singh and Coach Bala had to reshuffle the line-up wiith Nurhilmi Jasni making his 1st start of the season and Yusiskandar Yusof who returned from a hamstring injury after having missed the last 2 matches.
Playing their 1st home match back at the new astroturf Jurong Eaststadium, Albirex Niigata (S) found the Cheetahs in the mood to crash their party.
The 1st chance of the match went to the White Swans after a free-kick was sent in by Kento Nagasaki and the ball fell to Atsushi Shirota whose snapshot was too direct and easily handled by Khairulhin Khalid.
The Cheetahs had their 1st sight at goal when Nurhilmi sent in a cross from the left and found Fumiya Kogure but his header was just wide off the post.
Kento was next to try his luck when receiving the ball at the edge of the box, his volley flew just past the far post.
At midway through the 1st half, it was evident that both teams were clearly trying to get used to the pitch as players slipped and misjudged the bounce of the ball due to the large quantity of black rubber pellets.
Hougang came close in the 32nd minutes when captain Kaplan found space on the right wing and sent in a deep cross to Stipe Plazibat. Stipe knocked the ball down into space for Nurhilmi who was running in from deep and his 1st touch on the ball got him past the defender but he lost his footing on the slippery surface before he could pull the trigger.
Right before halftime, Hougang yet again came close to breaking the deadlock through Nazrul Nazari. Nurhilmi’s ball behind the White Swans defense saw Nazrul went on a sprint and he managed to wrestle the ball away from Naofumi Tanaka and side-stepped past Yosuke Nozawa who came off his line to close down the angle. Being forced wide, Nazrul could only hit his shot into the side netting from a tight angle before referee Muhd Taqi blew the whistle for halftime.
Within 4 minutes after the restart, Albirex Niigata (S) took the lead when a freekick from Daichi Ishiyama towards the far post found a lurking Shirota who had a free header just inside the 6 yards box.
Hougang skipper Jozef Kaplan had 2 opportunity to open his scoring account in his new club but was foiled by the experience Nozawa in 1 v 1 situations. Kaplan huffed and puffed thorough the match and was presented with another opportunity when Nazrul cross to the centre was powered towards goal but he could only direct it just wide off the far post.
Coach Bala threw on Iqbal Hussain in the 60th minutes to add more firepower to the attack and it nearly paid off when he managed to hold off Tanaka just inside the box but again the bounce off the ball slowed down the movement and Iqbal could only make a hasty flick off the ball with his left foot which Nozawa claimed with ease.
The White Swans went 2 up when uncharacteristic mistake from Wahyudi Wahid allowed Tatsuro Inui time and space to curl his shoot past Khairulhin at the near post.
With the win, Albirex Niigata (S) moved top of the league table while the Cheetahs dropped to 3rd and will take on high-flying Geylang International FC on 7 April, Thursday at Hougang Stadium.
Will the Cheetahs hand the Eagles their 1st defeat of the season; a feat that GIFC previous 6 opponents failed to achieved.
- Photos courtesy of Haiqal Tahar