By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Choa Chu Kang Stadium
The Warriors got off to a perfect start at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium when Shi Jiayi scored from close range in the third minute, but despite their dominance they found themselves 2-1 down by the hour mark after conceding two goals in three minutes from Mamadou Diallo and Azhar Sairudin.
Nonetheless, they equalised 11 minutes from time through a Mislav Karoglan penalty and the Bosnian fired them into the lead eight minutes later, before substitute Erwan Gunawan wrapped things up in injury-time with a brilliant strike.
The win was certainly much needed given V. Selvaraj's charges entered Sunday's game with just one win in their last four league outings, and were preparing for a must-win AFC Cup Group E game against Semen Padang on Wednesday, but they could not have asked for a better start.
With less than three minutes on the clock, awful defending from the visitors saw them give possession away to Sufian Anuar right in front of their goal, and the ex-LIONSXII man unselfishly laid the ball back for Shi to fire home the opener.
Seven minutes later, Warriors had another chance when Karoglan created space for himself inside the box with a clever turn, only to fire his shot over on his weaker right foot, and shortly after, opposition captain Lau Meng Meng did well to weigh in with a vital block to deny Sufian, just as he was about to fire away from six yards out.
Apart from one snapshot from Liam Shotton that sailed narrowly in the 17th minute, the Cheetahs were struggling to get out of their own half, and Shi came close to doubling his tally nine minutes later when he met Tatsuro Inui's corner with a firm header, only to see it cleared off the line by Syaqir Sulaiman.
Hougang did have a good opening five minutes after the half-hour mark after Jerome Baker's incisive through-ball sent Diallo racing through. Although the Guinean failed to get a clean contact on his strik, his miskick deceived the onrushing Hassan Sunny and it initially looked as though he would have an unguarded net to fire into, but the Warriors keeper recovered well to smother the danger before his opponent could pounce.
Inui was starting to cause all sorts of problems for the Cheetahs defence and his blistering freekick in the 37th minute drew a smart save from Fadhil Salim, who repeated the feat four minutes later when he kept out another fierce attempt from the Japanese winger.
Nonetheless, the hosts' failure to put away their plethora chances meant they ran the risk of being hit by a Hougang sucker punch and the warning signs were there in the 51st minute when slack marking allowed Syaqir met Fazli Jaffar's corner with a bullet header that forced Hassan into an outstanding reflex save.
But Warriors failed to take heed and were punished in the 54th minute from another set-piece; Fazli whipping in a freekick that was glanced home by Diallo.
A minute later, an excellent chance for the hosts to reclaim the lead went begging after Sufian was sent through by Shi's over-the-top ball, only to be denied by Fadhil in a one-on-one situation.
And his save proved vital seconds later as Hougang found themselves in front after being gifted a goal; Marin Vidosevic losing out in a 50-50 challenge on the edge of his own area to Azhar, who made his way into the box before emphatically finishing past a hapless Hassan.
With the wind now in their sails, the Cheetahs began to look the more dominant of the two sides and could have added a third in the 75th minute had it not been for Hassan, who raced off his line and bravely smothered at the feet of Nurhilmi Jasni after the winger looked set to latch onto Fairoz Hasan's through-ball down the right.
However, the Warriors were handed a way back into the game three minutes later when they were awarded a slightly questionable penalty after Shi's firm effort from inside the area was adjudged to have been blocked by Syaqir with his hand. Following a brief delay due to the visitors' protests, Karoglan stepped up and stroked his spot-kick into the bottom corner to make it 2-2.
The hosts then came close to edging ahead again a minute later when Inui, having made his way into the area following a mazy run past two men down the left, unleashed a piledriver just wide of the bottom corner.
The 23-year-old was really getting into the thick of things and carved out another chance for his side in the 87th minute when his slide-rule pass sliced open the opposition defence and sent Shimpei Sakurada through, but Fadhil once again refused to be beaten one-on-one.
Still, there was little he could do half a minute later when the Warriors duly took the lead once more; Abdil Qaiyyim rising highest inside the area to meet Shi's floated freekick and guide the ball towards the back post, where Karoglan was on hand to tap home from a couple of yards out.
And in injury-time, Erwan, moments after being denied by a fine reflex save from Fadhil, broke free down the right and unleashed a brilliant cross-cum-shot from the tightest of angles that flew into the top corner, sealing the win for the Warriors in the process.
Warriors FC: Hassan Sunny, Daniel Bennett, Abdil Qaiyyim, Marin Vidosevic, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin, Ruzaini Zainal (Prakash Manikam 77'), Shi Jiayi, Shukor Zailan (Shimpei Sakurada 67'), Tatsuro Inui, Sufian Anuar (Erwan Gunawan 67'), Mislav Karoglan.
Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Faizal Amir, Shahir Hamzah, Syaqir Sulaiman, Lau Meng Meng, Jerome Baker (Fazli Jaffar 38'), Fairoz Hasan (Basit Hamid 86'), Azhar Sairudin, Nurhilmi Jasni, Mamadou Diallo, Liam Shotton (Jeremy Chiang 46').
Image courtesy of Warriors FC (Darren Ho)