By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Prior to Friday's game at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the White Swans had been five points behind leaders Tampines Rovers following last week's 1-0 loss to Home United.
However, they got back to winning ways after Kazuki Sakamoto's clinical brace helped them overcome going behind to Mamadou Diallo's 18th-minute opener.
And although Tampines still have two games in hand, Sugiyama has no doubts the win over the Cheetahs has put them in a strong position.
"Yes, of course!" he said with a huge smile, when asked if his side were now back in the title race.
"Hougang United have won many games recently and I think they are in good condition. In the first 30 minutes, it was very difficult for us.
"But after we got our first goal, we recovered and were able to control the game. My players did a good job and I'm very happy.
"The number of sides putting the pressure on us is increasing and we must always be prepared to handle different situations. I think we had a good experience today [Friday]."
Things could have been very different had it not been for the striking prowess of Sakamoto, who skipped in between players and fired the equaliser in off the post three minutes before halftime, before netting the winner in the 58th minute after a brilliant trap-and-finish from Bruno Castanheira's cross.
The brace also put Sakamoto level with Tanjong Pagar United's Monsef Zerka on top of the scoring charts with eight goals, a tally more than double Albirex's next best in Bruno and Kento Nagasaki, who have three strikes apiece.
Nonetheless, Sugiyama insists he is not worried by what some believe is an increasingly unhealthy overreliance on the 23-year-old.
"I think Sakamoto is a very good striker," he added. "But his goals belong to all the players.
"I don't think it is a problem. He and Bruno are now in very good condition.
"They respect the team and aren't selfish players. That is very important."
The result was also a minor blip following the resurgent ways of the Cheetahs, who had won four consecutive matches prior to Friday to climb up to eight on the table.
Although Hougang interim boss Johana Johari admitted lapses in concentration had cost his side what he believes would have been a deserving draw, he was still proud of their effort.
"I'm not admitting they [Albirex] were the better team," he said. "Our plan was to allow them to keep possession and pounce when they mistakes, and we actually did that with our goal.
"But the next problem we faced was that sometimes we were so focused on keeping them at bay, that the frontline and centreline are working, but the backline had a little bit of a lapse.
"That cost us; that concentration. For both [Albirex] goals we had three to four men around but still the opponent managed to get through.
"That's why players' mental strength is very crucial and they should prepare towards situations that are about to come. We should realise that we should always be aware even though the play is happening in front of us.
"But I'm not blaming my defence. The boys did well, worked very hard in the first half and managed to score.
"It's very unfortunate they equalised in the last five minutes of the first half, which is something no team likes to have done to them."
Still, Johana refuses to get too disappointed over the defeat and is already looking for their upcoming RHB Singapore Cup first-round clash against Tampines.
"I'm very positive and never disappointed," he added. "This loss is something that is done and I want to get over it.
"I never blame my players as everybody contributed; no one ever wants to lose a game. Everyone is entitled to have an off day.
"They have done their part and I'm also to blame for the situation. Maybe our preparation wasn't good enough.
"Now we have to go back and see what went wrong because we're playing against Tampines Rovers next. But we've been having very close games and I'm very happy because the players are always focused.
"They know they haven't done well tonight [Friday] but I'm sure they will come back."
Hougang also fell to a one-goal defeat to Albirex when both sides met earlier in the season, after Takeshi Nagasawa scored the only goal of the game in the 42nd minute with a long-range strike.
Image courtesy of Albirex Niigata (S) FC