Hougang United are now just one point behind third-placed Brunei DPMM, after coming from two goals behind to beat Home United 4-2 in Friday night’s televised game at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Home had gone 2-0 up inside the first seven minutes through Ken Ilso and Song Uiyoung, but Hougang managed to level matters by half time via two Stipe Plazibat penalties.
Then two excellent goals by Iqbal Hussain and Fumiya Kogure early in the second half sealed the stunning comeback for the Cheetahs.
Home had started off the better side, with Ilso hitting the post from close range in the first minute after seeing his initial shot parried by Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin.
The Danish forward made amends in the sixth minute as he calmly side-footed home from close range after Nazrul Nazari had failed to deal with Azhar Sairudin’s lofted ball.
The Protectors doubled their lead just a minute later, with Song hooking home Sirina Camara’s teasing left-wing cross into the area.
Hougang took some time to settle into the game, with captain Jozef Kaplan firing meekly at Home custodian Hyrunizam Juma’at after being teed up by Nazrul Nazari.
The Cheetahs eventually found a lifeline in the 39th minute, with Plazibat converting from the slot after Nazrul was brought down by Camara on the right byline.
History was to repeat itself just five minutes later with Camara bringing down Nazrul with a careless challenge inside the box, before Plazibat coolly sent Hyrulnizam the wrong way from 12 yards out to level it up for his side.
Home coach Aidil Sharin reacted by hauling off Camara for Sufianto Salleh at half time. It was almost the perfect introduction for the latter as his angled drive was pushed wide by Ridhuan on 47 minutes.
Shamil Sharif then fired wide from eight yards out in a miss that he would live to rue, as Hougang scored again in the 52nd minute.
Former Singapore Under-23 starlet Iqbal spotted Hyrulnizam off the line, before floating a stupendous effort over the Home keeper from 20 yards out to put the Cheetahs 3-2 up.
The comeback was completed just four minutes later, with reigning S.League Player of the Year Kogure playing a neat one-two with Plazibat before volleying high past a helpless Hyrunizam from close range.
To rub salt into Home’s wounds, centre back Abdil Qaiyyim was then carried off after coming off worse in a tussle with Kaplan and had to be replaced by Haziq Azman.
The Protectors almost got one back in the 79th minute when substitute Khairul Nizam connected well with Sufianto Salleh’s hanging cross, but Hougang centre back Delwinder Singh got back in time to head off the line.
Time eventually ran out for the uniformed outfit, with Hougang going level on 25 points with them – just one point behind third-placed DPMM.
Hougang United head coach K Balagumaran: “The first penalty was the turning point for us. We conceded two early goals through individual mistakes, but to come back from two goals down boosted our players psychologically.
“Then we managed to score two great goals in the second half to win the game. But now we have to forget the result and focus on our next game against Tampines (Rovers). They’re a different team now so we have to work hard to get a result.”
Home United head coach Aidil Sharin: “The two penalties motivated Hougang to come back because it was still quite early in the game, but I respect the referee’s decision.
“For the two goals in the second half, we could have defended better. That’s where we’ll be getting back to the training ground to rectify and prepare for the next match.
“The players gave their best efforts but just did not convert their chances. Now it’s important not to look down and try to be better for the next game.”
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Delwinder Singh, M. Anumanthan, Jozef Kaplan (C), Fumiya Kogure, Stipe Plazibat, Nazrul Nazari (Nurhilmi Jasni 72’), Iqbal Hussain (Fairoz Hasan 74’), Huzaifah Aziz, Raihan Rahman, Afiq Noor (Nur Na’iim Ishak 82’)
Home United: Hyrulnizam Juma’at (GK), Song Uiyoung, Juma’at Jantan (C), Abdil Qaiyyim (Haziq Azman 65’), Aqhari Abdullah, Azhar Sairudin, Ken Ilso, Sirina Camara (Sufianto Salleh 46’), Shamil Sharif (Khairul Nizam 59’), Shahrin Saberin, Zulfahmi Arifin
Match Report by: S.league.com (Ryan Low)
Photos courtesy by Haiqal Tahir