In contrast to their past two matches where they only found the net late in the game, Hougang United got off to an electrifying start as Fareez Farhan scored a goal within 18 seconds after the referee’s opening whistle. None of Balestier Khalsa’s players had yet to touch the ball as Hougang made 8 passes from the kick-off, the last two an exchange between the goal scorer and Nurhilmi Jasni, who delivered a perfect through ball that required just one touch from Fareez to put the Cheetahs ahead.
And yet it was Balestier Khalsa who then took control of the game. They dominated the first half to such an extent that Hougang United did not had their second shot at goal – a header from Kunihiro Yamashita that went straight to Zaiful Nizam – until 45 minutes after Fareez’s strike.
Kenneth Chang, the hero in Hougang’s previous game, was the villain on this night. He first conceded a free kick at the halfway line and needlessly received a yellow card in the 19th minute for protesting the referee’s decision. He then conceded a penalty kick in the 24th minute after he caught Miroslav Kristic from behind and could count himself fortunate not to have received a second yellow card from the referee.
First choice goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin was on the bench after missing training due to National Service commitments and in his place was Ahmadulaq Che Omar, who was only playing his second game for the Cheetahs this season. The veteran goalkeeper dove the right way but he was unable to stop Kristic’s right-footed shot from the penalty spot.
The game was level again but not for long. In the 35th minute, Zulkiffli Hassim outpaced Fazli and delivered a brilliant pull back cross to Kristic at the edge of the box. The Croatian striker hit a fierce shot that went straight into the top left corner of the net.
Hougang United’s two foreign strikers Diego Gama and Vuk Sotirovic had both been injured in their previous match against Singapore Recreation Club. In their absence, head coach Salim Moin opted to field a 5-4-1 formation with Fazli Jaffar and Yuki Uchiyama as the wing backs around Kenneth, Yamashita and Tengku Mushadad. Upfront, Fareez was entrusted to the striker role with Carlos Delgado, Fairoz Hasan, Atsushi Shimono and Nurhilmi in midfield.
Where they had been placid in the first half, Hougang United came out after the break fighting for possession as they actively looked for an equalizer. Their efforts were rewarded in the 72nd minute by an uncharacteristic blunder from Zaiful. Going off his line in an unnecessary effort to keep Igor Cerina’s header from going out of play for a corner, the goalkeeper only succeeded in fumbling the ball onto a lurking and pouncing Fareez. The goalscorer turned provider as he passed the ball to Carlos and with Zaiful still off his line, Carlos was able to slot the ball home to draw Hougang level.
The game appeared to be heading for extra-time but Ignatius Ang had other ideas as he scored the winner in the 85th minute. He had came on as a substitute in the 68th minute for Zulkiffli and duly rewarded Marko Kraljevic’s decision to replace an assist provider. The goal came in a characteristic Balestier manner with Tarik Cmajcanin playing a long ball from the centre circle that bypassed seven Hougang United players. With his second touch, Ignatius lobbed the ball over an off-his-line Ahmadulaq.
Throwing caution to the wind, Salim Moin replaced Tengku Mushadad for Muhaymin Salim as he bolstered Hougang United’s attacking options. Kenneth Chang and Yuki Uchiyama had already been replaced by Taufiq Ghani and Diego Gama earlier in the second half. After starting with four outright defenders, Hougang United was ending the game with just one as they chased after a second equalizer. Despite five minutes of injury time, it was not to be.
Balestier Khalsa will face Albirex Niigata (S) in the League Cup final on 10th July, Friday, at Jalan Besar Stadium. Hougang United will next play Courts Young Lions on the 20th of July, Monday, when the S.League competition resumes.
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (C), Ahmad Syahir, Igor Cerina, Emir Lotinac, Ho Wai Loon (Hanafi Salleh 90′), Fadhil Noh (Hazzuwan Halim 90′), Poh Yifeng, Tarik Cmajcanin, Zulkiffli Hassim (Ignatius Ang 68′), Robert Pericic, Miroslav Kristic
Hougang United: Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, Yuki Uchiyama (Diego Gama 73′), Kunihiro Yamashita, Tengku Mushadad (Muhaymin Salim 88′), Kenneth Chang (Taufiq Ghani 63′), Fazli Jaffar, Nurhilmi Jasni, Atsushi Shimono, Fairoz Hasan (C), Carlos Delgado, Fareez Farhan