By Kelvin Yap at Hougang Stadium
Both of the goals had an element of luck about it - the first was an admittedly well-taken volley which was deflected through a crowded box into goal, while the second was scored after the Hougang players switched off defensively, thinking that there had been a foul given prior to the goal.
Controversial decisions for both sides also peppered the match, but the home side would feel more aggrieved after being denied a penalty and conceding the second goal in such a controversial fashion.
Hougang coach Nenad Bacina made the move to start with two strikers in Ignatius Ang and Mamadou Diallo, and they recorded their first attempt on goal barely a minute after kick-off, when the latter made a penetrating run down the right edge of the box and beat Al-Qaasimy Rahman, before firing into the outside of the upright from an acute angle.
However, the Young Lions proved to be more clinical, scoring with their first shot on target when El-Masri's volley from a cleared corner kick in the fifth minute was deflected through a sea of bodies into the net.
Hougang were then forced to make an early change, bringing on Hasree Zais for Syaqir Sulaiman three minutes later when the latter received a gash on his head while sliding in for the ball.
And with the hosts looking rattled, Robin Chitrakar's men proceeded to double their lead in the 22nd minute with El-Masri again the protagonist.
After delicately bringing down a crossfield pass from Faris Ramli on his chest, the Canadian advanced on goal after meeting no resistance from the opposition defenders, before firing a fierce effort past Ridzuan Hasan. However, the goal was met with fierce protests from the Cheetahs, who believed a foul should have been given for an earlier challenge on Fazli Jaffar on the opposite flank, although referee Jeevanathan was quick to wave them away.
The game then stagnated into an arm wrestle as neither side managed to carve open a real opening. Hougang resorted to peppering Syazwan's goal with optimistic efforts from range, while the Young Lions were finding it hard to get past the centre-back partnership of Hasree and Stanislav Vidakovic.
Aware that star player Jordan Webb, who has frequently come to Hougang's rescue this season, was having a virtually anonymous game so far, Bacina decided to change things by switching the Canadian over to the left flank, where he had an immediate impact. Picking up the ball on the wing, Webb took Faritz Hameed out of the equation with a brilliant turn and headed straight for goal, before being scythed down by Sheikh Abdul Hadi, who earned the match's first booking for his efforts.
The opening period then came to a controversial end when Ante Barac found the back of the net with a quickly-taken freekick, only for Jeevanathan to disallow the strike despite the fact that the Hougang players had not asked for the wall to be back the full ten yards.
Spurred on by a sense of injustice, Bacina's charges started the second half the brighter of the two sides, although a goal continued to elude them.
Ang, who had been easily outmuscled by his stronger-bodied opponents for much of the game, spurned a great chance to equalise in the 65th minute when he fired wide despite being unmarked inside the box, after Diallo had craftily turned Al-Qaasimy before laying the ball on for his strike partner.
The stop-start rhythm of the match was not helped by Jeevanathan's insistence on clamping down on niggly challenges and awarding of several questionable freekicks to both sides.
It was from one of the official's indecisive moments that the Young Lions nearly extended their lead in the 73rd minute. The visitors' keeper Syazwan Buhari parried Diallo's freekick back to the striker, but even as Diallo was brought down by a late tackle, the Young Lions played on with Jonathan Toto leading the counter attack but failing to beat Hasan in a one-on-one situation.
Bacina then threw Vidakovic up front in a last-gasp bid to find a goal and he was almost rewarded when Webb was clearly brought down by Faritz Hameed on the inside edge of the box, but the referee chose to award a freekick on the line of the penalty box instead. Diallo could only fire the freekick into the wall, an apt way to end the match for the stuttering Cheetahs who succumbed to their sixth straight league defeat.
Hougang United: Ridzuan Hasan, Lau Meng Meng, Syaqir Sulaiman (Hasree Zais 8'), Stanislav Vidakovic, Faizal Amir, Fazli Jaffar, Azhar Sairrudin (Ridhwan Osman 56'), Ante Barac, Jordan Webb, Ignatius Ang (Sobrie Mazelan 79'), Mamadou Diallo
Courts Young Lions: Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Faritz Hameed, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fazli Ayob (Neil Vanu 80'), Hafiz Sujad, Faris Ramli (Benjamin Kristofferson Lee 68'), Sirina Camara, Aqhari Abdullah, Sherif El-Masri, Jonathan Toto.