The Tigers might have entered the match with five regular starters out through injuries or suspensions but their absence evidently did not matter with goals coming from Jonathan Xu, Ignatius Ang, and Tarik Cmajcanin. Emir Lotinac scored too, albeit for the wrong side, with centreback Kunihiro Yamashita the Cheetahs’ only goalscorer for the game.
The result saw Hougang United missing an opportunity to move up the table into 7th place while Balestier Khalsa now boast a formidable run of just one loss in their last ten games.
The Line Ups
Atsushi Shimono replaced Taufiq Ghani in the Cheetahs’ starting line-up after missing their past two games on compassionate grounds. The Japanese defensive midfielder’s return also meant his compatriot Yuki Uchiyama had to sit out this game due to the five foreign players limit. That in turn allowed Faizal Amir to make his return to the first eleven.
Hougang United fielded five players in this game that had not started the previous encounter with Balestier Khalsa – goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin, the two full backs Faizal and Delwinder Singh, and the two forwards Diego Gama and Vuk Sotirovic. For Ridhuan, Delwinder, and Sotirovic, this game was additionally their very first encounter with the Tigers all year.
As had been widely expected, Balestier Khalsa were missing forward Robert Pericic, wide midfielder Fadhil Noh and left back Ho Wai Loon through injuries while their top scorer Miroslav Kristic and former Hougang United centreback Igor Cerina were suspended for the game. Their absence paved the way for Ridwan Jamil to start his first game for the Tigers while Xu was handed his first start in 10 games.
Balestier Khalsa also fielded five players in this game that had not started in the previous meeting between the two sides – Yusiskandar Yusop, Hanafi Salleh and Ang as well as Ridwan and Xu. For Yusiskandar and Hanafi, this was their first meeting with the Cheetahs in 2015.
Hougang United dominated the early proceedings of the game and had a good shout for a penalty after just three and a half minutes. Under pressure from Sotirovic, Yusiskandar had appeared to handle the ball inside the penalty box but referee Farhan Mohd waved play on. Sotirovic felt further aggrieved seven minutes later when a high studs up challenge from Ridwan Jamil went unpunished despite visible marks on the Serbian striker’s knees.
Against the run of play, the Cheetahs fell behind at the 20th minute mark. A long ball from Yusiskandar found Xu clear and onside. With three touches of the ball, Xu chipped it over Ridhuan and headed it into an empty net. A few minutes later, Ang won a free kick and delivered a low shot aimed at the near post but the ball deflected off Delwinder’s right feet and abruptly changed trajectory to land into the far net. In the span of five minutes, Balestier Khalsa was leading 2:0.
The Cheetahs came close to scoring in the 35th minute when Carlos Delgado delivered a long ball that found Sotirovic in the box but the latter’s header was comfortably collected by Zaiful Nizam. Their best chance of the first half came right before the break from the same combination – a corner taken by Delgado saw Sotirovic heading the ball wide.
Hougang United started the second half explosively and were quickly rewarded with a goal within two minutes of the resumption of play. From the left, Fazli delivered a low cross that Gama flicked onto Lotinac for a deflection into goal.
A mere minute later, Sotirovic delivered a volley to get the ball to his strike partner but Gama’s own first touch volley was too powerful and overshot the crossbar. In the 53rd minute, Gama turned provider as he made an impressive run down the left before crossing the ball across the goalmouth with Sotirovic just a metre too far to tap the ball in.
It was all Cheetahs for the first twelve minutes of the second half until Delwinder was adjudged to have fouled Zulkiffli Hassim. A farcical scene then followed as Ridhuan easily collected the ball from the ensuing free kick before attempting to roll it out quickly for a counter attack. The ball deflected off the referee and back towards Xu at the edge of the box. With Ridhuan well off his line, it was down to Faizal to make a timely interception and block Xu’s shot for a throw in.
From the resulting throw in, Ang prevented Faizal from getting the ball with an outstretched left leg that caused the right back to stumble onto the ground. The referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge as Ang cut inside the box and delivered a pass to an unmarked Tarik whose left footed shot restored Balestier Khalsa’s two goals lead.
A string of substitutions then followed as Kunihiro moved to an upfront role. The tactical switch paid off, albeit a little too late, as Hougang United pulled back the deficit in the 90th minute. Fareez Farhan – who had replaced Fazli – lobbed the ball to Gama who chested it down for Kunihiro to score at close range. With four minutes of injury left, the Cheetahs piled the pressure. A shot from Gama was parried away by Zaiful for a corner. From the set piece, the ball was cleared away and Ridhuan, in the centre circle, delivered a long ball that completely evaded the Tigers’ offside trap. Kunihiro struck a volley but his shot was too high.
Hougang United will have 11 days to bounce back from the defeat before they cross the causeway for the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca to face Harimau Muda.
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (C), Yusiskandar Yusop, Hanafi Salleh, Emir Lotinac, Ahmad Syahir, Ridwan Jamil (Nurullah Hussein 76′), Jonathan Xu (Hazzuwan Halim 66′), Zulkiffli Hassim, Poh Yifeng, Tarik Cmajcanin, Ignatius Ang (Afiq Salman Tan 81′)
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin, Faizal Amir (Fairoz Hasan 70′), Kunihiro Yamashita, Tengku Mushadad, Delwinder Singh, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Carlos Delgado (Taufiq Ghani 87′), Atsushi Shimono, Fazli Jaffar (Fareez Farhan 57′), Diego Gama, Vuk Sotirovic