A huge mismatch based on both sides’ current form.
If you put the recent statistics together, this match should be a foregone conclusion before a ball is even kicked.
Albirex Niigata (S) have won their last eight league matches, while Hougang United are yet to taste a win in their last six attempts in all competitions.
Albirex are sitting merry at the S.League summit, seven points clear of nearest challengers Tampines Rovers, while Hougang have dropped to fourth after being top at one stage.
However, there is one crucial factor that may sway the outcome of this game – Hougang’s unbeaten record at home so far.
Top teams like Home United, Brunei DPMM and Tampines Rovers have all failed to come away from Hougang Stadium with maximum points.
In their last three home matches, the Cheetahs have come from behind after conceding an early penalty to earn points – a sign of their doggedness whenever they play in front of their own supporters.
Interestingly, the two sides met in a friendly at the same venue just a little over a week ago, with Hougang pulling off a stunning fightback in the final 16 minutes to come from three goals down and draw 3-3.
That may have rattled Albirex’s defensive line a little as they let in two goals against the Warriors FC last Friday. This, after conceding just once in their last seven league outings.
Hougang will come into this game on the back of a morale-boosting comeback 2-2 draw with Balestier Khalsa, as they scored twice in the final four minutes to salvage a point.
That should give the Cheetahs some confidence going into this match with the seemingly relentless White Swans.
Once again, Albirex have a full-strength squad to call upon with no major injuries or suspensions reported.
Meanwhile Hougang will miss out on the services of Fairoz Hasan, who is suspended after accumulating four yellow cards.
His right-wing spot is likely to be filled up by Nurhilmi Jasni, who had to deputise at right-back against Balestier as Nazrul Nazari was rested after his exertions on international duty.
Centre-back Yusiskandar Yusop may be available again after recovering well from injury.
Key Battle: Fumiya Kogure vs Shuto Inaba
It is no secret that Hougang usually excel when Kogure is on top of his game. Despite missing a few games due to injury, he is still the Cheetahs’ joint-top assist-maker along with Nazrul on four.
The classy playmaker will be relishing the opportunity to shine against his former employers, but he will come up against a tough opponent in Inaba.
The 23-year-old is Albirex’s version of N’Golo Kante as he often sweeps up all the danger in front of the back four and surges forward to support the attack whenever the opportunity arises.
While it is clear that he has a preferred starting eleven, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo has also displayed his tactical acumen with his astute substitutions – in the last game his three substitutes Masaya Jitzono, Kazuki Mine and Daichi Ishiyama combined to score the winning goal.
Hougang counterpart K Balagumaran is no slouch either, often utilising the likes of Iqbal Hussain and Afiq Noor off the bench to good effect.
Facts and Figures:
- Albirex has the clear upper hand based on head-to-head records. In 48 match-ups, they won 33 while Hougang triumphed seven times.
- In their earlier encounter this season, Albirex ran out 2-0 winners at Jurong East courtesy of second-half goals from Atsushi Shirota and Tatsuro Inui.
- Albirex is the only team not to be in a losing position at half-time this season.
- Hougang is the only team to have a 100% record in games (four) where they have taken the lead.
- Hougang have not tasted victory for two months since a 1-0 away win against Warriors FC in April.
- Hougang’s last win against Albirex was in June 2014, where a Geison Moura goal helped them edge it 1-0 at Jurong East.
- After three clean sheets in their first five matches, Hougang have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine outings.
The form book suggests a straightforward Albirex win, but Hougang’s good home form should not be ignored. Cheetahs to nick a 1-1 draw after going behind.
Match Preview by: FourFourTwo (Kenneth Tan)
Photo courtesy of: Haiqal Tahir