The lightning warning activation might have delayed the kick off by 45 minutes but there was no avoiding the inevitable. After 79 days, 6 losses and 4 draws, Hougang United have won their first game in the 2015 S.League competition.
Their opponents on Tuesday night, Geylang International, had been in fine form this month with impressive wins over Warriors and Home preceding their draw with Balestier. It was Hougang United though that started the match with a fierce sense of urgency rarely seen in their previous 10 games.
Breaking away from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he had used for the past eight games, head coach Salim Moin fielded a 4-4-2 formation with Francisco Ela and Muhaymin Salim leading the attack. Within the first two minutes of the game, each forward had a shot at goal. A short free kick taken by Shunsuke Nakatake had found Muhaymin, whose effort was rebounded to Francisco. The Equatorial Guinean’s shot was deflected for a corner. Another corner followed shortly before the stadium’s timer could hit the three minutes mark.
The same two forwards combined for the winning goal in the 73rd minute. Rounding the ball past Kento Fukuda, Muhaymin outpaced the Japanese defender as he ran towards the touchline. His low cross found an unmarked Francisco at the inside edge of the penalty box. As Yazid Yasin, Geylang International’s goalkeeper, rushed towards Francisco, the striker lobbed the ball into the back of the net.
There were several other changes in Hougang United’s line-up. Of the backline that started in the previous game, a 4:0 loss to Home United, only Lau Meng Meng featured in this game’s first eleven. Faizal Amir returned to the right back position and a new centre back partnership was introduced in Renshi Yamaguchi and Tengku Mushadad. It was the latter’s first game for Hougang United and the duo played particularly well, restricting Geylang International to mostly long distance efforts.
In between the goalposts, the 34 years old veteran Ahmadulhaq Che Omar was another player starting his first competitive game for Hougang United. He made an outstanding save in the 64th minute when he parried away a long distance scorcher from Tatsuro Inui.
On two other occasions, Inui came close to scoring for Geylang International, both through direct free kick shots from the edge of the penalty box. The first attempt, in the 15th minute, ricocheted against the crossbar. The second attempt, on the hour mark, went inches above the bar. In the 31st minute, Bruno Castanheira also smashed against the crossbar in the 31st minute with a long distance effort.
Hougang United had their share of close opportunities too. In the 29th minute, Nakatake’s free kick was headed by Francisco towards an unmarked Fareez Farhan but the latter’s shot went wide. In the 52nd minute, Fareez struck a perfectly delivered cross from the touchline. Nurhilmi leapt to meet the ball with his right foot but his shot at point blank range was incredulously tipped over the crossbar by an acrobatic Yazid, who had a good game despite conceding the winning goal.
Ultimately, the night belonged to Francisco. In the 34th minute of the first half, he elicited gasps and awe from the crowd with a dribble that left his marker on the ground. Two minutes later, he again broke clear. In the space of three minutes, he shot three times, all from long range. Those shots might not have landed at the back of the net but the one in the 73rd minute did and that was all that mattered in the end.
Hougang United: Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, Faizal Amir (Ruzaini Zainal 79′), Tengku Mushadad, Renshi Yamaguchi, Lau Meng Meng, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Fairoz Hasan, Shunsuke Nakatake, Fareez Farhan (Manato Takahashi 62′), Muhaymin Salim, Francisco Salvador Ela (Goh Swee Swee 84′)
Geylang International: Yazid Yasin, Yuki Ichikawa, Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Syed Thaha (Anaz Hadee 63′), Nor Azli Yusoff (Mustaqim Manzur 81′), Shah Hirul (Shawal Anuar 76′), Tatsuro Inui, Jozef Kaplan (C), Hafiz Nor, Bruno Castanheira
Photo Credit: S.League