Written by: Ryan Low

Holders Albirex Niigata (S) were unable to get off to a winning start to their The New Paper League Cup campaign as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Hougang United in a Group A clash at Hougang Stadium on Friday night.

The White Swans were out to bounce back from the surprise 2-1 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League defeat to the same team four nights ago, but Hougang put up a resolute defensive showing to earn a share of the spoils.

Albirex had to wait till the 23rd minute for their first real chance of the night, with Koki Sato’s stinging 25-yard drive clipping the post before going out.

Hougang were content to hit on the break and almost scored two minutes later, with Spanish forward Pablo Rodriguez prodding just wide from Nazrul Nazari’s cross into the area.

Albirex should have gone ahead on the stroke of half time, but Shoichiro Sakamoto somehow lashed over after Kento Nagasaki’s half-cleared corner fell to him at the far post.

Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s side continued to dominate proceedings in the second half, but were unable to find a way through the Hougang defence well-marshalled by old boy Atsushi Shirota.

Even when they did so, Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin was in the way as he denied Tsubasa Sano’s goal-bound shot from point-blank range in the 63rd minute.

The Cheetahs could have gone ahead four minutes later when Nazrul put in another teasing ball into the box, but captain Azhar Sairudin could only steer his volley wide.

Albirex went close again in the 70th minute with Hiroyoshi Kamata wriggling his way through to goal, but Ridhuan rushed off his line to deny the former.

There was one last chance for the White Swans deep into injury time when Sano went through on goal, but the 23-year-old somehow fired wide of the left-hand post with just Ridhuan to beat.

Eventually both sides had to be content with a point each to start off The New Paper League Cup 2017.

Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “I’ve spoken about looking at the big picture. We made seven changes because we want to let the fresh players play. It’s important to play against good teams and not get beaten, we got the job done.

“Albirex came more determined today after Monday night’s loss so it wasn’t easy for us. It’s a cup competition and a tricky group, we do not want to give away three points so easily. Now it’s a point apiece and Albirex will need to go and win against Warriors FC next.”

Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “We controlled the game, the players executed my attacking plan and created some good chances but did not put the ball into the net. After two losses, I’m happy with my players’ attitude and desire to win the game.

“The three games without a win could be good because it keeps the players on their toes. We see this as a point gained and it could be huge for us to qualify for the semi-finals.”

Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Gerald Ting, Atsushi Shirota, Zulfahmi Arifin, Ali Hudzaifi, Fabian Kwok, Syahiran Miswan (Afiq Noor 90’), Azhar Sairudin (C) (Faiz Salleh 76’), Fumiya Kogure (Fairoz Hasan 57’), Pablo Rodriguez

Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Shoichiro Sakamoto (Rui Kumada 69’), Shuto Inaba (C), Kento Nagasaki, Koki Sato, Ryota Nakai, Tsubasa Sano


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