Hougang United need a reprieve quickly as they go into their fourth match of the 2018 Singapore Premier League season without a win.
They will not have it easy when they entertain Balestier Khalsa at the Hougang Stadium on Sunday with Marko Kraljevic’s charges looking sharp in recent games.
BACKGROUND: It has been a slow start to the season for ambitious Hougang, who find themselves at the bottom of the table with just one point from their opening three matches.
After bouncing back from their opening 2-0 away loss to Young Lions with a 1-1 home draw against Warriors FC, the Cheetahs proceeded to fall to a heavy 4-0 away defeat to title-chasing Tampines Rovers FC on Wednesday night.
While there are obvious weaknesses in the Hougang rearguard as witnessed till date, the more glaring deficiencies for Philippe Aw’s side lie in attack – with their only goal this season coming from the penalty spot.
The Cheetahs do have good local attacking talents like Fareez Farhan, Shahfiq Ghani and Iqbal Hussain at their disposal. However having lost playmakers Fumiya Kogure and Azhar Sairudin in the off-season, they lack a player who can deliver the killer pass in the final third.
Nonetheless Hougang vice-captain Fabian Kwok is confident that the Cheetahs’ class of 2018 has what it takes to work out a winning formula.
“We have a young team with lots of potential. During our pre-season matches, we do see a connection when we go forward to attack,” the 29-year-old told FOX Sports Asia. “Now it’s a matter of having the confidence to keep going at it and I believe the goals will come gradually.
“We are frustrated by this start to the season but it just shows that we have a desire to do better. Thankfully there’re 21 more matches to go so there’s time for us to bounce back.”
Next up for Hougang is a tough clash against Balestier – a side who are on a roll after winning their past two matches.
Kraljevic’s side dispatched Young Lions 3-1 at home and edged Geylang International FC 1-0 away to recover from two opening losses against Home United FC (1-3) and Albirex Niigata FC (S) (0-1).
Foreign attacking imports Vedran Mesec and Keegan Linderboom have already opened their accounts for the Tigers as they currently sit in fifth – level on points with Tampines, Brunei DPMM FC and Young Lions.
It may still be early days, but all signs are pointing towards a much more positive campaign for Balestier after two consecutive seasons in the lower echelons of the table. In 2017, they won just five matches and scored only 17 en route to finishing seventh.
Another plus point for Balestier so far has been Kraljevic’s willingness to blood in rookies – with the likes of Afiq Salman Tan, Noor Akid Nordin, Fariz Faizal and Sharin Majid all getting game time.
The standout ought to be Shaqi Sulaiman, who has impressed with his sturdy performances at centre-back. The 19-year-old is looking forward to take on his old employers on Sunday night.
“It’s a bittersweet moment because both coach Philippe and coach Robin (Chitrakar – Hougang’s head of youth (Centre of Excellence)) have helped me in my development,” said the former Hougang Prime League player.
“Both of them taught me how to build out from the back and to be comfortable on the ball. I’m thankful for their support but I’m not going to hold back from anything in this game as I’ll be playing for the badge on my chest.”
Tampines Rovers Football Club continued their good home form in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League with a 4-0 victory over Hougang United Football Club (HGFC) on Wednesday.
Posted by FOX SPORTS Asia on Wednesday, 18 April 2018
TEAM NEWS: Hougang will continue to miss the services of Jordan Chan who is recovering from a shoulder operation, while French-Italian forward Antoine Viterale and first-choice goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid remain doubtful after their recent injuries.
In contrast, Balestier are in a clean bill of health for this one.
Hougang United FC: DLLDL
Balestier Khalsa FC: WLLWW
02/11/17 Hougang 0-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
29/07/17 Balestier 0-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
27/04/17 Hougang 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
01/10/16 Hougang 1-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
25/07/16 Hougang 2-1 Balestier – League Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Iqbal Hussain (Hougang United FC)
The season has not gone to plan so far for Iqbal, who is now the focal point of Hougang’s attack following Pablo Rodriguez’s departure. Nonetheless the 24-year-old is a special talent with nifty dribbling skills and has a powerful left-footed shot in his locker. Do expect him to go all out in his game to break his duck for the season.
Hazzuwan Halim (Balestier Khalsa FC)
It is always tough to follow up on an impressive individual campaign but Hazzuwan seemed to have carried where he left off. The 2017 Young Player of the Year has been the spark in the Tigers’ attack in their last two games and he will be looking to repeat what he did at Hougang Stadium last November. It was his coolly-struck penalty which brought his side a 1-0 win in their final game of the season.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Hougang midfielder Fabian Kwok: “What’s done is done, now we need to learn from our mistakes and do better the next time round. The spirit in the dressing room is building up and I sense that we’ll put up a tougher fight in our upcoming games.
“It’s crucial to get a result against Balestier as the gap is starting to open up in the table and we want to stay as close as possible to the pack. They have two big attackers and a bunch of determined local players so it won’t be a walk in the pack. But we’re ready to compete and do our best to earn our first three points.”
Balestier defender Shaqi Sulaiman: “The seniors and coaching staff have helped me a lot to build my confidence during training and to bring it into my game. I’m happy to be playing alongside (Sheikh Abdul) Hadi in defence because he commands and communicates very well. On my right side, there’s Fadli (Kamis) who also guides me during the game and makes it easier for me.
“Confidence is definitely high after two wins but we can’t get it in our heads as there are no easy games at this level. We’ll go into this game wanting the three points, just like any other game.”