Written by: Ryan Low
Hougang United gave new head coach Philippe Aw the perfect welcome gift with a neat 2-0 win against Geylang International in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League at the Hougang Stadium on Monday night.
Fumiya Kogure and Iqbal Hussain scored in each half to help the Cheetahs clinch all three points, but it was by no means a straightforward victory.
The Eagles could have scored early on through a Shahfiq Ghani free kick, but Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid did well to tip the goal-bound effort over.
But the Cheetahs settled their early nerves and duly opened the scoring on 24 minutes.
Japanese playmaker Kogure took down M. Anumanthan’s right-wing cross, spun past his marker before firing home a low shot which proved to be too hot to handle for Geylang custodian Syazwan Buhari.
The hosts could have doubled the lead just before half time, but captain Azhar Sairudin blazed a speculative 25-yard volley over.
Geylang did well to come back in the second half and should have equalised in the 54th minute.
Shawal Anuar managed to round Khairulhin after taking down Shahfiq Ghani’s long ball, but his resulting shot was somehow cleared off the line by a back-tracking Zulfahmi Arifin.
The visitors threw bodies forward in the final 15 minutes and almost got their rewards four minutes before the end.
New Costa Rican recruit Victor Coto broke free in the box and seemed odds-on to convert, but his snapshot was kept out by a superb Khairulhin reflex save.
Hougang went on the counter thereafter and sealed the victory, with substitute Iqbal Hussein striding onto Spanish target man Pablo Rodriguez’s through ball before coolly finishing past the onrushing Syazwan in the 86th minute.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “It’s important to start off with a win. Because of all the hype and attention on us in pre-season, the boys were under so much pressure to perform and I feel relieved we won. Before the game, everyone was saying it’s a sure win for us and it was like Geylang is non-existent. We still had to come out and play to get the result.
“Credit to Geylang for taking the game to us. At one-nil down, they threw the numbers forward and Khai (Khairulhin) made one great save (to deny Coto). It’s pleasing to get a clean sheet because only one guy – the Japanese defender (Shirota) – in my back five is a natural defender.”
Geylang International Head Coach Hasrin Jailani: “It was a tough game for us; honestly they (Hougang) did not have much chances, but they finished off those that was given to them. Defensively we did well, it’s just the attacking part which we need to improve more and take more chances. Towards the last 15 minutes, I put three at the back (to chase the game) and could have equalised right before they scored the second. That’s football.”
“Ricardo (Sendra) got a back injury last week, but he should get back in time for the next game. Victor did very well; I played him as a no. 10 in the first half and he did his job. That shows he’s willing to work for the team and he showed some good touches as well. Given all the injuries and suspensions, we did okay and now I just need the whole team to stay positive; it’s just the first game.”
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), M. Anumanthan, Atsushi Shirota, Zulfahmi Arifin, Nazrul Nazari, Syahiran Miswan, Afiq Noor (Gareth Low 89’), Ariyan Shamsuddin Malik (Fareez Farhan 58’), Fumiya Kogure, Azhar Sairudin (C) (Iqbal Hussain 72’), Pablo Rodriguez Aracil
Geylang International: Syazwan Buhari (GK), Faritz Hameed (C), Anders Aplin, Yuki Ichikawa, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Shawal Anuar, Shahfiq Ghani, Safirul Sulaiman, Gabriel Quak (Nor Azli Yusoff 70’), Victor Coto, Amy Recha (Hairey Jamal 79’)