By Gabriel TanFollow @@gabetan13
Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium
Hougang got off to a dream start at the Jalan Besar Stadium after seven minutes when Liam Shotton pounced on the rebound to open the scoring, before Nurhilmi Jasni netted with looping header to double their lead in the 21st minute.
The visitors did pull one back three minutes after the half-hour mark when Ridzuan Abdunloh headed home on the rebound after his initial header had come off the bar, but the Cheetahs sealed the victory in the 75th minute when Nurhilmi nodded home his second of the evening.
Having had to endure an awful start to 2013 with just one win in their opening eight games, Hougang were in desperate need to pick up three points on Friday but they could not have asked for a better start.
With seven minutes on the clock, Thomas Beattie met a freekick and flicked it towards Syaqir Sulaiman, who turned the ball towards goal with a firm header. Hafizul Hakim did well to deny the centre-back his third goal of the season, but there was little else he could do as Shotton snuck in ahead of Syazwan Tajuddin to turn home the rebound.
Buoyed by their early opener, the Cheetahs started to play with plenty of energy and 14 minutes later, it was 2-0; Fazli Jaffar tearing down the left and sending a pinpoint cross onto the head of Nurhilmi, who expertly guided the ball over Hafizul and into the top corner.
Seven minutes later, Harimau Muda had their first real effort on goal when Ridzuan's left-wing cross was punched out by Fadhil Salim straight to Akhir Bahari, only for him to sky a first-time effort way over.
Young Tigers left-back Asri Marduzki, who has already scored one belter this season, then had a good effort in the 31st minute when he unleashed a shot from 25 yards that was ultimately comfortable for Fadhil, but two minutes later, his side duly pulled one back.
Breaking down the right, Ashmawi Yakin floated in a good ball into the area that was met by Ridzuan. Although his first header came smashing back off the cross bar, he was perfectly positioned to meet the rebound and nod the ball into the back of the net.
Having gotten themselves back into the game, the visitors then needed Hafizul to prevent Hougang from reclaiming their two-goal lead, the 20-year-old producing a fine save to deny Beattie from point-blank range before reacting in time to claw the ball back into his grasp just as it looked to be creeping over the line.
While the Young Tigers had been second best up till that point, a couple of players were impressing, including energetic forward Faizat Ghazli. He gave the opposition a warning sign in the 56th minute when he broke free down the right and fired a good attempt wide from a difficult angle, before sending another strike narrowly off target a minute later after latching onto a Maxsius Musa pass.
Less than a minute later, a moment of controversy arrived when Hougang thought they had scored a third after Shotton unleashed a fantastic 25-yard drive that smashed off the crossbar and landed right at the goalmouth. Although replays later showed the ball had clearly crossed the line, both referee Yazeen Buhari and his linesman were unsighted and waved play on.
Shotton did have reason to feel aggrieved after being denied a legitimate strike, but he only had himself to blame for failing to double his tally three minutes after the hour mark when he blazed over from eight yards, after Beattie had rose highest inside the box to nod down an Azhar Sairudin freekick into his path.
The Cheetahs were nearly made to pay for that miss in the 66th minute but Hasree Zais produced a brave block to keep out Ridzuan's fierce effort, after the tricky winger had broken free down the left and made his way past three players.
Faizat continued to look lively and sent Syafwan Syahlan through on goal two minutes later with an incisive pass, but just as he looked set to fire a shot away, Fadhil raced out well and expertly dispossessed his opponent with his feet.
Four minutes after, Fadhil was called into action once more when he produced a flying save to keep out a well-struck volley by Faizat, who had timed his shot to perfection after pouncing on a headed clearance by Syaqir Sulaiman.
By now, Harimau Muda were really knocking on the Cheetahs' door and had another good chance in the 74th minute; Ashmawi Yakin overlapping down the right and floating a brilliant ball to Syafwan, who was just unable to stab home from close range at the back post.
But a minute later, the contest was all but ended as Hougang scored a third; Lau Meng Meng left in space on the left wing and proceeding to float an excellent cross into the box, where it was met by Nurhilmi with a firm header into the bottom corner.
As the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, Mamadou Diallo could have added a fourth when he skipped past a couple of challenges on the edge of the area before sending a fierce effort towards goal, but Hafizul was equal to the task and pushed it to safety.
Nonetheless, the Cheetahs had done enough by then for a much-needed win; only the second they have recorded this season and again against less experienced opposition, with their first coming against Courts Young Lions in the opening round.
The three points were certainly deserved based on the way Hougang had played, but they will have to prove themselves against stronger, more-experienced sides if they are to climb away from the bottom of the table starting next Monday when they entertain Home United.
Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Faizal Amir (Jeremy Chiang 80'), Hasree Zais, Syaqir Sulaiman, Lau Meng Meng, Nurhilmi Jasni, Thomas Beattie, Azhar Sairudin (Shahir Hamzah 76'), Fazli Jaffar (Fairoz Hasan 82'), Mamadou Diallo, Liam Shotton.
Harimau Muda: Hafizul Hakim, Ashmawi Yakin, Syazwan Tajuddin, Nashriq Yahya, Asri Mardzuki (Syawal Nordin 81'), Azzizan Nordin (Akmal Ishak 87'), Akhir Bahari, Maxsius Musa (Iskandar Hanapiah 80'), Faizat Ghazli, Ridzuan Abdunloh, Syafwan Syahlan.
Image courtesy of Felicia Toh