Cheetahs’ top six hopes hangs in balance

Nurhilmi Jasni 90′

Faris Shah Rosli 26′, Asri Mardzuki 41′

Hougang United’s hopes of finishing in the top-half of the Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League are hanging by a thread after a 2-1 defeat to Harimau Muda at home on Tuesday evening.

Two first-half goals by Harimau – the second a brilliant free kick by Asri Mardzuki – proved enough for the visitors to end the S.League Round Two on a high.

Hougang are still sitting in sixth spot with 33 points, three more than seventh placed Balestier, albeit with a game played more. The Tigers can overtake the Cheetahs on goal difference, should they triumph over Harimau in their last game.

While Hougang dominated the opening half, they failed to register a single shot on target. This was in no small part due to the well-marshalled defence of Harimau, which repelled every cross and pass that came near the danger area.

Geison Moura had a chance to open the scoring in the 16th minute when he was put through after a series of passes but he failed to control the ball while one-on-one and instead put it out for a goal kick.

Fazli Jaffar was next to have a go as he attempted a volley but it was from his weaker foot and the ball flew over the crossbar.

Harimau then had their first sight of goal when Faris Shah narrowly diverted the ball wide after meeting Azrul Nizam’s cross in the 23rd minute.

Against the run of play, the deadlock was broken three minutes with the first shot on target of the match as Lau Meng Meng gave the ball away to Faris and the latter drove home a shot beyond the despairing dive of Hougang goalkeeper Basil Chan.

Pure inspiration from Asri Mardzuki then saw the visitors grab a two-goal margin, as he curled in a freekick from the edge of the box into the top corner in the 40th minute.

With the Cheetahs left to chase the game, the match became more open and chances started to flow more freely, especially for the Young Tigers.

Four minutes after the restart, Nor Azam Azih forced Chan into a low save before he provided a cross for Shahrul Igwan that was blasted over.

Hougang too had their chances, as Nurhilmi Jasni saw his header comfortably gathered by Harimau custodian Ramdhan Hamid.

However, things worsened for the hosts in the 54th minute, when defender Firman Hanif was sent off after receiving a second yellow card.

Despite that, Hougang ploughed on as Fazli tested Ramdhan from point-blank range on the hour mark only to see the youngster pull off a smart save from him, before Diego Gama blazed over as the Young Tigers held on.

The visitors could have put the game to bed with another goal on 79 minutes, but Chan was able to save with his feet in a one-on-one situation with Nor Azam.

There was late drama in the game, as Nurhilmi then reduced the deficit by half after steering home Wahyudi Wahid’s cross in the 89th minute.

It was a frantic finish as Hougang piled on the pressure and it cost Harimau a man as their substitute goalkeeper Ilham Amirullah dallied on a goalkick for too long and was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for time-wasting.

In spite of that, Hougang were unable to muster anything, and are now left to hope that Harimau do the same to Balestier in order for the Cheetahs to stay in sixth.

Basil Chan, Igor Cerina, Wahyudi Wahid, Lau Meng Meng, Faizal Amir. Firman Hanif (sent off 56′), Shunsuke Nakatake, Fazli Jaffar (Erwan Gunawan 76′), Nurhilmi Jasni, Geison Moura, Diego Gama (Sutanto Tan 76′)

Ramadhan Hamid (Ilham Amirullah 61′, sent off 90′), Shahrul Igwan, Ramzi Haziq (Asri Mardzuki 10′), Qayyum Marjani Sadli, Asrul Nizam Mohammad, Nor Azam Azih (Syazwan Saipol Bahari 85′), Asmawi Yakin, Syawal Nordin, Annas Rahmat, Faris Shah Rosli, Irfan Zakaria.

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