Hougang United spurned an excellent opportunity to go third after a 2-1 defeat to Brunei DPMM in Friday night’s televised game at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
It all looked good for the Cheetahs as they led 1-0 at half time courtesy of Stipe Plazibat’s 9th-minute opener.
The Croatian forward’s shot was deflected home by DPMM captain Rosmin Kamis from close range, after a neat cutback by Iqbal Hussain.
Plazibat almost scored again four minutes later when he went through on goal via Iqbal’s knock-on, but his resulting shot crashed off the crossbar before going out of play.
DPMM then went close on 21 minutes, with Azwan Ali’s shot getting a deflection off Huzaifah Aziz before hitting the angle of post and bar.
Hougang was then forced to make a defensive reshuffle just before the break, with Fairoz Hasan replacing the injured Delwinder Singh.
Midfielder M.Anumanthan was pushed back into defence to partner Raihan Rahman as a result, but the duo was unable to stop DPMM from scoring the equaliser on 51 minutes.
Brazilian hot-shot Rafael Ramazotti slotted home the rebound after seeing his initial shot parried by Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin.
The towering hit-man was at it again just a minute later as he outjumped the onrushing Ridhuan to head home Azwan Salleh’s deep cross into an empty net and put his side ahead.
It was a lead that the Wasps never relinquished, although Hougang had their chances in the final 30 minutes.
On the 64th minute, Fumiya Kogure blazed over from six yards out after Plazibat’s miscued shot fell inadvertently into his path.
Then on 81 minutes, Iqbal went through on goal via Anumanthan’s defence-splitting pass, but DPMM custodian Wardun Yussof pulled off a superb reflex save to deny the former.
Two minutes later, the duo combined again with Anumanthan putting in a teasing ball into the six-yard box which captain Jozef Kaplan just failed to get the vital touch on.
The Cheetahs would pay for their wastefulness as the final whistle soon sounded off to signal a DPMM victory.
The result meant DPMM stayed in third with 32 points, four points clear of nearest challengers Geylang International and Hougang (who have a game in hand).
Hougang United head coach K Balagumaran: “Delwinder’s injury was key. We were a little disorganized at the start of the second half, with both goals coming from individual mistakes.
“For the first goal, Fairoz should have put the ball out and there was no communication. For the second goal, my goalkeeper was out of position.
“The team fought till the last minute and we created enough chances. If we had taken them, we could have won the game. Now it’s anybody’s game for the top three.”
Brunei DPMM head coach Steve Kean: “The first half was dreadful and Hougang were miles better than us. We were too deep, not passing the ball enough, no width and did not make any crosses.
“It was a total contrast in the second half. We got much higher up the pitch, wider and got the early goals. I also have to give credit to my captain Rosmin (Kamis); he did a man-to-man marking job on Hougang’s best player, their no. 8 (Kogure). Once we took him out, it became easier for us.
“We haven’t given up on finishing second. If Albirex (Niigata (S)) win the next couple of games, Tampines (Rovers) might start focusing on other competitions. We want to keep this winning run going.”
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Nazrul Nazari (Nur Ridho 74’), Delwinder Singh (Fairoz Hasan 44’), Raihan Rahman, Huzaifah Aziz, M. Anumanthan, Afiq Noor, Jozef Kaplan (C), Fumiya Kogure, Stipe Plazibat, Iqbal Hussain
Brunei DPMM: Wardun Yussof (GK), Reduan Petara (Awangku Fakharrazi 90’), Rosmin Kamis (C), Brian McLean, Azwan Salleh, Azwan Ali (Maududi Hilmi 58’), Hendra Azam, Najib Tarif, Aminuddin Zakwan (Abdul Aziz Tamit 87’), Rafael Ramazotti, Paulo Sergio
Match report by S.League.com Ryan Low
Photos courtesy of Haiqal Tahir