Hougang, Balestier draw as Iqbal cancels out Linderboom stunner

Iqbal Hussain canceled out Keegan Linderboom’s first-half stunner as Hougang United earn 1-1 draw at home to Balestier Khalsa on Sunday evening.

Hougang United FC’s winless start to the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) season continued after a 1-1 draw with Balestier Khalsa FC at Hougang Stadium on Sunday evening.

Keegan Linderboom put Balestier 1-0 up via a first-half free kick, but Iqbal Hussain scored early in the second half to prevent a third straight victory for the Tigers.

The result meant Hougang came off the foot of the table to go eighth with two points from four matches, while Balestier go up to third with seven from five.

On a high after two straight wins, Balestier started off the better side and were sharper in the opening exchanges.

Thus it was no surprise that they managed to open the scoring after just nine minutes. Linderboom stepped up to curl home a neat free-kick for his third goal of the season after Shahfiq Ghani had brought down Afiq Salman Tan.

Hougang gradually woke up from their slumber and threatened on 21 minutes, with Shahfiq Ghani’s 30-yard free kick being tipped around the post by Balestier’s long-serving goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.

Balestier was then dealt a real blow near the half-hour mark, with midfield enforcer Raihan Rahman stretchered off after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and had to be replaced by Noor Akid Nordin.

Hougang got into the game more in the dying moments of the first half, with another Shahfiq free-kick pushed wide by Zaiful while Muhaimin Suhaimi lashed wide a 20-yard volley.

The Cheetahs carried where they left off after the break and duly found the equaliser on 49 minutes.

Shahfiq did well to fend off the attentions of marker Shaqi Sulaiman before hooking a cross into the area for Nurhilmi Jasni. The latter then played the ball across goal for Iqbal to nod home a diving header past Zaiful.

The goal gave Philippe Aw’s side renewed confidence and they almost took the lead just two minutes later. Nurhilmi found himself on the clear from Shahfiq’s long ball, but contrived to fire straight at Zaiful.

Balestier found it hard to breach the Hougang defence in the second half, but went agonisingly close on 67 minutes with Hazzuwan Halim’s close-range volley looking set to dip into goal before a flying intervention by Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid to push it over.

Both sides then spurned excellent opportunities to win the game late on. First it was Balestier’s Shiekh Abdul Hadi who volleyed over from six yards out on 86 minutes after Vedran Mesec had flicked on Hazzuwan’s free kick.

Then Hougang substitute Fareez Farhan somehow fired over with just Zaiful to beat after being teed up by Iqbal’s slide-rule pass with just a minute left on the clock – spurning the chance to grab a first win for his side in the process.

The result meant Hougang went the entire April without a win and they will have to try to break the duck when they host Home United FC at the same venue on Wednesday, 2 May.

Meanwhile Balestier will host another win-less side Warriors FC in their next SPL game at Toa Payoh Stdadium next Sunday.

Hougang United FC Head Coach Philippe Aw: “We came into this game, knowing that Balestier are about their two big guys (Mesec and Linderboom) and long balls. We put Ashrul (Syafeeq) at right back and we did well to cope with the first balls in the beginning. But we did not manage to pick up the second balls.

“I brought on Syahiran (Miswan) for Gerald (Ting) at half time and that was a good chance. Syahiran and Fabian (Kwok) gave us something in midfield and we scored the equaliser. It wasn’t an easy game in the second half with Balestier coming higher up the pitch to stop us from playing our short passing game.

“It was unlucky for Fareez for that late chance because the ball bounced up (just before he shot), but I’m happy that Iqbal got the goal – a local attacker. We set out this season that we want to help to develop the nation’s strikers. After 24-30 games this season, they (Fareez and Iqbal) will definitely improve (playing as forwards).”

Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “After scoring the goal, we were just happy with 1-0 and we should have gone forward more to get the second. For that, I wasn’t very happy. At 1-0 down, Hougang have nothing to lose.

“We were too pushing too high and that’s how we conceded – a long ball from their goalkeeper. We had a few chances in the second half but Keegan (Linderboom) did not produce what he was capable in training. We rushed too much to get the second half and we were just pumping the balls to the strikers.”

“Raihan’s absence is definitely a big loss for us. He’s the guy who keeps the shape for the team; (fellow central midfielders) Vedran and Huzaifah (Aziz) are attacking players. He’s been playing very well this year. As compared to last year where he could play more attacking, we gave him a lot more jobs in defensive midfield – to win the ball and to move it to the strikers. Without him, we’re going to find it more difficult. But life goes on and now we must find players to replace him.”

Hougang United FC: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Ashrul Syafeeq, Illyas Lee, Adam Mitter, Faiz Salleh, Fabian Kwok, Gerald Ting (Syahiran Miswan 46’), Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Shahfiq Ghani (Fareez Farhan 79’), Muhaimin Suhaimi (Nazrul Nazari 68’), Iqbal Hussain

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Sharin Majid (Ahmad Syahir 80’), Afiq Salman Tan, Raihan Rahman (Noor Akid Nordin 29’, Fariz Faizal 75’), Vedran Mesec, Huzaifah Aziz, Hazzuwan Halim, Keegan Linderboom

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