Hariss Harun scored the winning goal for Home United on Wednesday evening as they defeated Ceres Negros 2-1 in the first leg of their AFC Cup Zonal Final.
But the win was anything but comfortable for Home in an action-packed game that saw its fair share of drama and controversy.
We take a look at five talking points from Wednesday night’s clash.
Ceres may have lost on the night, but the result could have easily been very different if several borderline decisions made by the officials had gone the other way. First there was the penalty after nine minutes. Yes, there was contact in the box as Stipe Plazibat attempted to shoot after a corner had fallen kindly for him, but he most certainly made a meal of his fall.
Japanese referee Hiroyuki Kimura was convinced, however, and duly pointed to the spot. Then on 28 minutes after a Kevin Ingreso free kick had drifted into the net, Carli de Murga was harshly penalised for interfering with play, and just four minutes later Ceres had the ball in the net again, only for Iain Ramsay to be flagged offside when he looked to be level.
All three decisions were debatable, but the fact that all of them went in Home’s favour will certainly leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the Ceres players and coaching staff.
Home too deep?
Hitting teams on the break has been a trademark of Home United’s play this season under Aidil Sharin, but at times against Ceres the Protectors virtually played with two rows of four at the back. While Ceres didn’t really create much with their possession, Home’s tendency to sit back and allow the Busmen the ball limited the number of forward forays the hosts made. Home looked dangerous almost every time they attacked and their reluctance to attack more meant they failed to capitalise on what was a often nervy display by the Ceres defence.
Hassan’s costly howler
Hassan Sunny has forged a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s best goalkeepers over the years with some great performances, but against Ceres the Singapore international had a moment to forget. While Home were still fortunate to be ahead as the game entered first-half stoppage time, there is no explanation for what happened next as Hassan made a complete hash of Martin Steuble’s hit-and-hope from fully 30 yards.
Hassan seemingly forgot the goalkeeping basics and failed to get his body behind the ball as it bounced awkwardly and up into the roof of the net. And while the Protectors still managed to win on the night, that away goal could prove crucial next week.
Eyebrows were raised when the Home United team sheet showed that Hariss Harun was starting in central defence in place of regular centerback Abdil Qaiyyim. Aidil Sharin obviously wanted Hariss’ experience and calming influence at the back, but with his other midfield general Song Ui Yong missing through injury it soon became apparent that despite Hariss’ solid showing at the back, Home were lacking that extra bit of quality and presence in the middle of the park. Qaiyyim did eventually come on in the second half, which allowed Hariss to move back to midfield and Home looked more balanced for it. Hariss also popped up with the winner after the switch, so maybe Aidil is a tactical genius after all.
Home to rue missed chances?
Despite winning on the night, Home may be left to rue the chances they missed next week when they travel to fortress Bacolod. Home went in level at half-time, but it could have easily been 3-1 had Adam Swandi and Stipe Plazibat not contrived to miss two very good chances. Swandi headed against the bar when it looked easier to score, while Plazibat got himself in a tangle and somehow failed to connect with Khairul Nizam’s cross with an open goal staring at him.
Ceres will be pumped up by their perceived injustice with the disallowed goals, and although Home are a good counter-attacking side they will have their work cut out to come away with a result in the Philippines – where Ceres are unbeaten in 18 games. Whatever happens, it promises to be another thrilling encounter.