Stranded at the bottom of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) without a single win, Hougang United FC’s season desperately need a lift-off. However, up next is a tough encounter against in-form Tampines Rovers FC at Hougang Stadium on Saturday night
When it rains, it pours. This saying cannot be truer for Hougang, who looked to have done enough to earn a point in last week’s bottom-of-the-table clash against Warriors FC.
However with just three minutes of regulation time left, Shamil Sharif’s shot was adjudged to have struck the hand of young defender Jordan Vestering as the referee pointed to the spot.
Jonathan Behe dispatched the resulting penalty, before adding another goal deep into injury time to condemn the Cheetahs to a 2-0 defeat at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
Philippe Aw’s men are now six points adrift at the bottom and are still waiting for their first win after nine matches – their worst-ever start to a season since being rebranded as Hougang in 2011.
To put things into perspective, it took them the 11th time of asking to attain their first three points in 2015. Even then, they had four points from their opening nine matches – one more than their current tally of three.
English centre-back Adam Mitter admitted he is shocked to see his side being rock bottom, but does not believes it is a fair reflection of their performances thus far.
“After such a good pre-season and some great results (including a 4-4 draw with Melaka United), it’s crazy to see us in this position,” the 25-year-old told FOX Sports Asia. “I think we’ve been very unlucky in a lot of games in terms of clean sheets.
“I look back to the first game against Warriors (a 1-1 home draw) – they had one attempt on target all game and that was a shot from a corner which went in. Against Balestier Khalsa FC (another) 1-1 home draw) and Albirex Niigata FC (S) (a 1-0 away defeat), they scored direct from a free kick without creating hardly anything for the rest of the game.
“The only game which we thought we couldn’t have gotten anything from was the 4-0 away defeat to Tampines in the first round. Every other game apart from that, we could easily have gotten one or three points, if decisions had gone our way or we had finished off our chances.”
Pressure is mounting at the North East, but Mitter has backed his side to come out of this malaise.
“I’ve played a lot in Asia over the last few years and I’ll tell you this, Philippe and his coaching staff are probably the best which I’ve worked under in terms of preparing a team and professionalism,” stressed the former Blackpool trainee.
“In every game, they are giving the perfect tactical information. So it’s down to us players to implement what they have been telling us. We just all need to stick together now and I’m sure our luck will change soon.”
It will not be easy though, with Tampines up in their tracks next. The Stags are now one of the most in-form sides at the moment, following up a last-gasp 2-1 victory against Geylang International FC with a pair of convincing wins (4-0 and 3-1) over the Young Lions.
The sequence of results meant Jurgen Raab’s side are in the driving seat to finish second, with a five-point lead over third-placed Home.
Defender Madhu Mohana believes that should be the focus, with Albirex Niigata FC (S) 14 points better off them and not looking like they will slip up.
“We have to be honest with ourselves; we lost to them twice and it’s pretty hard to catch up to them,” said the 27-year-old, who has benefitted from Irfan Najeeb’s injury to start the last four matches in defence. “We’ll need the other teams to beat them in order for us to catch up.”
The Stags are hot favourites to win this game and are undefeated in their last three visits to Hougang. Their last loss there was a 4-2 defeat in April 2014.
TEAM NEWS: Hougang will miss out on the services of Vice-captain Fabian Kwok due to a one-match suspension for accumulating four yellow cards.
As for Tampines, they will continue to do without Irfan – who is still recovering from an ankle fracture. Hafiz Sujad also remains ineligible due to registration issues, while Shannon Stephen and Safirul Sulaiman are out for the long term.
Hougang United FC: DLLLL
Tampines Rovers FC: WLWWW
18/04/18 Tampines 4-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
09/09/17 Tampines 5-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
25/05/17 Hougang 0-3 Tampines – Singapore Premier League
03/03/17 Tampines 2-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
17/08/16 Tampines 1-2 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Stanely Ng (Hougang United FC)
After a slow start to his Hougang career, Ng has forced his way into the starting eleven for the past two matches – contributing an assist in the 2-1 defeat to Young Lions. The 26-year-old’s pace and trickery down the flanks will come in handy for the Cheetahs, who have lacked bite in attack all season.
Shameer Aziq ( Tampines Rovers FC)
Breaking onto the scene as a electric attacker, Shameer has been transformed into a roving full-back this season under Raab and is flourishing in his new role. The 22-year-old will be surely be keen to show how far he has come against the club that gave him his professional debut.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Hougang defender Adam Mitter: “In football, there’s always another game and we have to rectify what went wrong when we faced them (Tampines) in the first round. Tampines are full of quality players, not just Khairul Amri, so we need to stop the whole team.
“Defending’s a collective responsibility, we need to defend and attack together as a unit. Now we can only look forward to what’s coming and hopefully our first three points will come in this game. Once we get one win, I’m confident many more will follow.”
Tampines defender Madhu Mohana: “Previously my last full match was in December with Negeri Sembilan, so it was a bit tough getting back my match fitness. But now I’m back; it’s good to be reunited with Daniel (Bennett) and Farra (Fahrudin Mustafic) in defence, we’re pretty comfortable with each other.
“We cannot be complacent against Hougang and we have to take them seriously. Iqbal (Hussain) is doing well for them this year; we know his playing style and we will do our best to shut him down.”