After two successive sixth-place finishes, ambitious Hougang started this year with the target of reaching the upper echelons of the table.
However, they now sit bottom with three draws and four defeats with almost one-third of the season over.
It is their worst start to a campaign since 2015, when it took them the 11th time of asking to get their first winl they eventually finished bottom of the pile.
It all began wrongly for the Cheetahs as they opened the season with a 2-0 loss to the Young Lions – a result that shocked the local football fraternity, given that the latter finished bottom for the past two SPL seasons.
Things barely improved from there, with one of their most glaring issues being a lack of a killer touch. They have scored just six goals in seven matches – the joint-lowest along with Young Lions, who have played two games lesser.
Those statistics are rather surprising, considering there are quality local attackers in their ranks like Iqbal Hussain, Shahfiq Ghani, Fareez Farhan and Stanely Ng.
“With the players we have, we shouldn’t be at the bottom of the table,” acknowledged Iqbal, who is Hougang’s top scorer with three goals. “I don’t think there’s anything missing for us in attack as we have been creating plenty of chances; we just need to do better in putting the ball in the net.
“It’s important now that everyone step up in training and during matches. We have to show our fullest potential and learn from our mistakes to bounce back in the upcoming second round.”
As for the Young Lions, it seems to have gone pear-shaped a little after a dream start that saw them top the table with two wins in a row and no goals conceded.
Defeats against Balestier Khalsa FC and Albirex Niigata FC (S) sandwiched a 1-1 draw against Geylang International FC as Fandi Ahmad’s boys dropped to sixth with seven points from five games.
Defensive frailties are starting to creep into their game, with lapses of concentration and a failure to pick up the runners into their box costing them and centre-back Irfan Fandi knows his side has to improve.
“We could have defended better,” said the 20-year-old. “We just want to move forward to the next game as we have a tough schedule – with games almost every three days in the fasting month. It’s all about recovery for the boys now so that we can go with the same intensity in every game.”
A first win for Young Lions at Hougang since 2014 will push them into the top five, while Hougang can lift themselves off the bottom if they manage their first win of the season here.
TEAM NEWS For Hougang, young attackers Jordan Chan and Antoine Viterale remain unavailable for selection due to injuries, while English centre-back Adam Mitter has joined them on the treatment table due to a muscle tear in his back.
That means we are likely to witness a first SPL game this season without any foreigners featuring.
As for the Young Lions, wide man Naqiuddin Eunos and Captain Taufiq Muqminin are possible doubts due to injuries. However roving right-back Prakash Raj returns from suspension and leading forward Ikhsan Fandi should return to the starting eleven after coming on as a second-half substitute against Albirex.
Young Lions: WWLDL
04/04/18: Young Lions 2-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
24/10/17: Young Lions 0-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
15/09/17: Hougang 2-1 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
11/03/17: Hougang 2-0 Young Lions – Singapore Premier League
23/09/16: Young Lions 0-2 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Muhaimin Suhaimi – Hougang
Things have not gone swimmingly for Muhaimin since his switch from Young Lions in the off-season, but he remains to be one of the most hardworking players for the team – something that Aw values as he has featured in all seven games to date. The 23-year-old’s constant runs down the flank will surely pose a threat for the Young Lions defence.
Hami Syahin – Young Lions
Coming into his third professional season, Hami has grown from being a promising player to become one of the most important players in the Young Lions setup. The technically-gifted 19-year-old has the ability to dictate the tempo in the middle of the park and play the killer ball – just look at his gorgeous outer-foot pass that split the Albirex defence for Naufal Azman to net on Wednesday.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Hougang striker Iqbal: “Playing as a centre forward is just another attacking role because I’ve played in all attacking positions before. I just want to give my best in the position which the Coach wants me to play and develop myself into a better player.
“I wouldn’t say it’s revenge but it’s more of redeeming ourselves after a poor start. Young Lions is a good team led by the living legend Fandi Ahmad; they’re fast, aggressive and tactically disciplined. Just like any other game, we need team work, desire and a bit of luck to win this game.”
Young Lions defender Irfan: “Hougang are not as good as Albirex so it’ll definitely be a more open and exciting game.
“I have an important role to guide the younger players this year as I’m more experienced; so far the boys have been taking it well in training and hopefully they improve more as the season goes on.”
Photo credit: Football Association of Singapore