Hougang United FC continued their woeful start to their Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign after a 2-0 defeat to Tampines Rovers FC at Hougang Stadium on Saturday night.
Fazrul Nawaz struck just before half-time and Khairul Amri came off the bench to seal the points for Tampines after the break, despite the visitors having to play the last half hour with ten men due to Shameer Aziq’s dismissal.
The result means Juergen Raab’s men opened up an eight-point gap between them and third-placed Home United FC, but remain 14 points behind runaway leaders Albirex Niigata FC (S).
Meanwhile, Hougang continue to be stranded at the bottom – six points adrift of eighth-placed Warriors FC – without a win all season.
Tampines settled in the better of the two sides and could have scored on eight minutes, but Zulfadhmi Suzliman thrashed wide from close range after getting past two defenders.
That woke Hougang up from their slumber and they were unlucky not to net three minutes later. Illyas Lee got the faintest of touches to meet Fareez Farhan’s enticing in-swinging corner, but his header thudded off the right-hand post.
Both goalkeepers were then called into action, with Hougang’s Khairulhin Khalid producing a superb reflex save to push away Yasir Hanapi’s snapshot from eight yards out on 25 minutes.
Six minutes later, Syazwan Buhari got down low to tip away Nazrul Nazari’s shot from a tight angle after a great solo run by the winger.
The away side, who had largely controlled proceedings, then grabbed a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time.
Shameer was allowed the freedom of Hougang Stadium to whip in a delightful cross from the right for Fazrul, who met it with a towering header past the despairing reach of Khairulhin.
Hougang were handed a numerical advantage when Shameer received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Jordan Vestering and was sent for an early bath.
Buoyed, the Cheetahs piled on the pressure and went agonisingly close to finding the equaliser in the 65th minute.
Captain Nurhilmi Jasni expertly took down Vestering’s deep cross into the area, but fired wide of the left-hand post under pressure from Tampines’ skipper Fahrudin Mustafic.
They were made to pay for that miss as Tampines doubled their advantage four minutes later.
Amri, who had entered the fray just moments earlier for Fazrul, got a firm header off Yasir’s outswinging corner to score his fourth league goal of the season.
Hougang threw on Antoine Viterale to shake things up in the attacking third for the final 20 minutes, but the French-Italian forward found the going tough against a stout Tampines backline led by Mustafic.
He did go close with a header off Fareez’s left-wing cross, but it was clawed away by the alert Syazwan as Hougang stumbled to a fifth straight defeat.
Hougang will look to end their win-less run when they visit Balestier Khalsa FC next Sunday, while Tampines host Warriors FC on the same night.
Hougang Head Coach Philippe Aw: “We had four certain starters out today – Iqbal (Hussain), Shahfiq (Ghani), Fabian (Kwok) and Muhaimin (Suhaimi), but the boys did well and took the fight to Tampines. The goals came from Fazrul and Amri – they’re in their 30s, but still the top two strikers in Singapore. We do not have such centre-forwards.
“I’m giving opportunities to young strikers like Fareez (Farhan) and Iqbal to play upfront, but it’s hurting us because we do not have a presence and we cannot turn half-chances into goals. Unless I can call Noh Alam Shah out of retirement, there’s no other local strikers (in the market) at the moment. So we have to go foreign – that’s something which me and the technical team will need to discuss because it will make a huge difference for us. Hopefully we can bring in someone with a little bit of experience upfront in the (upcoming) transfer window.
“It’s (10 games without a win) mentally tough for us but we as a club have not given up. Game 11 versus Balestier next week, we have to prepare well and go again.”
Tampines Head Coach Juergen Raab: “Everyone expected us to win 4-0 or 5-0, but I saw that this Hougang team can play well, like they did against Albirex and were unlucky to lose 1-0. They confirmed it today with a brave performance and it wasn’t easy to beat them. We had to be careful of their set-pieces and counter-attacks as well.
“The second goal was so important for us to settle (our nerves), with Hougang having hope after the sending off (to Shameer). It’s nice to have options – Fazrul started and scored, Amri is a good substitute who settled quickly into the game – so I’m happy with this situation.
“Now we have an eight-point gap (with third-placed Home) and we must continue to try and secure second place. To battle for first is unrealistic.”
Hougang: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Faiz Salleh (Antoine Viterale 70’), Illyas Lee, Adam Mitter, Jordan Vestering (Asraf Zahid 89’), Nasrul Taib, Syahiran Miswan (Daniel Goh 82’), Nazrul Nazari, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Stanely Ng, Fareez Farhan.
Unused subs: Zulfairuuz Rudy (GK), Ashrul Syafeeq, Justin Hui, Amir Zalani.
Tampines: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Shameer Aziq, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Daniel Bennett, Irwan Shah, Amirul Adli, Jordan Webb, Yasir Hanapi (Shah Shahiran 83’), Ryutaro Megumi, Fazrul Nawaz (Khairul Amri 66’), Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Madhu Mohana 66’).
Unused subs: Haikol Hasnol (GK), Haziq Razzali, Afiq Yunos, Faizal Raffi.
Photo Credit: Football Association of Singapore