Balestier hand Hougang miserable home return

Hougang United played their first home game of the 2013 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season but could only register a 3-1 defeat to Balestier Khalsa.

Obadin strikes right after the break!
Suhas Bhat

By Suhas Bhat

Reporting from the Hougang Stadium

The fans had to wait seven games to see their players in action on home turf and they were quietly optimistic despite the Cheetahs having collected just one win so far in the current campaign. A bright start to the first half gave them hope and even Park Kang-jin's terrific volley in the 19th minute, that put the visitors ahead, did not deflate their enthusiasm. 

Led by caretaker coach Johana Johari, with Alex Weaver taking to the stands once more as he faces uncertainty over his long-term future, the boys in purple, however, failed to produce chances of note and were undone by two headers off corners by Obadin Aikhena and Park in the second half.

Liam Shotton, who came on as a substitute, did manage to score a consolation goal but it was too little too late as Hougang suffered their fourth loss of the season. 

At the start of the game, it was a tale of ineffectual free-kicks and ill-timed challenges with Qiu Li kicking things off by smashing a pass off a free-kick over the bar in the fifth minute. 

Within a minute, it was Balestier captain Tengku Mushadad's turn to try his hand as he swung in the ball from the left and saw opposition custodian Fadhil Salim barely manage to tip out the cross. 

Hasree Zais then collected a yellow for clattering Kim Min-ho but Qiu failed with his second attempt, although it was a better effort as the ball curled over the bar . 

In the 14th minute, Mamadou Diallo came up with the first concrete chance of the game as he nodded Jerome Baker's left-wing cross inches wide of the top right corner and Johana would have reason to regret that miss five minutes later, as Balestier's Park came up with the opener through a superbly worked move. 

A goalkick was flicked on by the aerially dominant Jung Hee-bong and Qiu did well to lob it forward for the marauding Park to fire it in off the volley, with the ball clattering in off the underside of the bar to give the visiting fans cause for some early cheer. 

It wasn't the only time that Jung impressed in the air as the striker was quite a force to reckon with for much of the game, and fed his team-mates several choice flick-ons and passes. The Hougang men, in response, ended up committing many fouls in order to break up the Balestier attacks and saw three of their own collect yellow cards within the first half. 

The teams returned to attacking from closed play as Tengku saw yet another freekick miss the target in the 20th minute, while Qiu connected with another delivery ten minutes later but could not direct it towards goal. 

Balestier could have scored a second goal six minutes before the break as Kim did well to run into position down the right and head a long ball towards Jung in the middle, but the striker's attempt went wide of the left post. 

And the last that Hougang had to offer within the half was Syaqir Sulaiman's connection with a short corner that he could only divert into the side-nettting.

But Balestier did not have to wait long to take control of the game after halftime as Qiu Li's freekick from the right was met by centre-back Obadin with a firm header that sailed right into the top corner in the 46th minute, doubling his side's lead in the process.

The Cheetahs tried to retaliate with Nurhilmi Jasni pouncing on a clearance following a corner but his effort went well over the bar. Hasree then failed with his header off an Azhar delivery in the 50th minute, while Qiu was put through on goal by Park but saw his effort dribble wide of the left post shortly afterwards. 

Four minutes later, Kim's involvement in the game was brought to an early end as he clattered with Fadhil while chasing a long ball into the box and had to be swapped with Ruhaizad Ismail. 

The tall Jung next posed a threat in the 65th minute when he headed a cross-field pass towards Qiu, who sold his opponent a dummy before sending in a right-footed shot from the left that went wide once more. 

In a bid to equalise the height differential, Johana brought on Englishman Liam Shotton with 13 minutes left for his men to find a way back into the game, but that task was made even more difficult in the 79th minute as Park scored his second - and his side's third of the night - when he met a Qiu corner and headed home.

Shotton did make an impact during his cameo however as just two minutes later he was picked out inside the area by Baker's pinpoint looping cross from the right, and was left with the simplest of headers to pull one back for his side.

The intensity of the game increased a notch as Hougang tried in vain to score another goal and come away a respectable scoreline - Zaiful Nizam had to be alert to cut out Fazli Jaffar's cross from reaching Shotton, after the former was released down the left by Baker's smart through-ball in the 83rd minute. 

And the 29-year-old winger asserted his presence once more three minutes later as he sent in a deep cross from the left but Baker had difficulty reaching it in time and could only tap it wide of the right post. 

Jung, who definitely deserved a goal for his diligent showing, saw a shot from distance easily collected by the overworked Fadhil, before Balestier coach Darren Stewart decided to give the impressive Park a well-earned break in the 89th minute when he replaced the energetic midfielder with Shafuan Sutohmoh.

But in the end, as the game reached its closing stages, a tame free-kick by Diallo in the 91st minute was all that Stewart had to worry about as his men picked up their fourth win of the season. 

Hougang were left floundering at the foot of the table in 11th place and next face a tricky fixture as they take on league leaders Tampines Rovers away at the Clementi Stadium on Saturday night.

Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Hasree Zais, Lau Meng Meng, Syaqir Sulaiman, Faizal Amir (Liam Shotton 77'), Fazly Hasan (Jeremy Chiang 52'), Azhar Sairudin, Jerome Baker, Nurhilmi Jasni, Robert Eziakor, Mamadou Diallo.

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Hamqaamal Shah, Syed Thaha, Obadin Aikhena, Poh Yifeng, Tengku Mushadad, Ridwan Jamil, Park Kang-jin (Shafuan Sutohmoh 89'), Kim Min-ho (Ruhaizad Ismail 57'), Qiu Li (Patrick Paran 86'), Jung Hee-bong.

Attendance: 793

Image courtesy of Balestier Khalsa FC (Andrew Lim)

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