Hougang United rejoice as post-Philippe Aw era starts with first win in 11 attempts against Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday.
Hougang United’s wait for their first win of their Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign is finally over after an industrious performance helped them to a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa on Sunday.
Nurhilmi Jasni scored a captain’s goal for the Cheetahs in the second half, as Hougang ended their 13-game winless streak stretching back to November last year.
However, they remain rooted at the bottom of the table and are five points behind second-bottom Geylang International. Balestier on the other hand dropped a spot to fourth following Home United’s win over Geylang.
Both sides took time to settle into the game and it was only on 16 minutes before a shot – Jordan Vestering’s free-kick from just outside the penalty box that flew narrowly wide – was registered in the game.
Less than a minute later, Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid produced a wonderful stop to deny Balestier forward Akbar Shah, who had spun his marker around before firing a left-footed effort that was destined for the top corner.
The Tigers were then dealt a major blow in the 32nd minute after Vedran Mesec had to be taken off with a twisted ankle and that allowed the visiting Cheetahs to take control of the game.
They should have perhaps gone ahead six minutes later after Nurhilmi was slipped through on goal by a brilliant pass from Vestering, but a scuffed shot from the midfielder meant Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam was able to gather the ball easily.
Zaiful was again called into action a minute before the break as he used his feet to deny Antoine Viterale following a smart reverse pass from Stanely Ng.
Hougang continued their encouraging display in the attacking third in the second half. Yet they were no closer to finding the back of the net with Ng missing after Nurullah Hussein gave the ball away deep in his own half.
The visitors later found themselves denied once more by Zaiful after he dived at full stretch to prevent Nurhilmi’s forceful header off Viterale’s cross from finding the net, while Amir Zalani flashed a volley narrowly wide minutes later.
Balestier almost made them pay for those misses in the 60th minute against the run of play, with Akbar Shah rocking the woodwork from close range following Hougang’s failure to clear the ball.
Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo, who took over the team just a week ago after Philippe Aw was dismissed, then sent Fareez Farhan on in a bid to get the goals, and he duly delivered – by creating one instead.
Fareez’s pinpoint corner in the 74th minute found Nurhilmi, who planted a header towards the far post with Zaiful not moving at all.
It could have been 2-0 shortly after Faiz Salleh embarked on a mesmerizing run down the right and squared it for an unmarked Fareez, only for the striker to shoot a tame effort straight at Zaiful.
Balestier continued toiling down the other end and were twice prevented from scoring by Khairulhin in the Hougang goal.
When the keeper was beaten in the dying minutes, Faiz was on hand to bail his team out with a goal-line clearance to stop Hazzuwan’s effort from creeping in – securing the victory that had proved to be elusive previously.
Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “Everything went against us today – they didn’t cause us much problems until Vedran (Mesec) went out. Second half I felt it was 50-50, they scored the goal, we had chances, but Khai (Hougang keeper Khairulhin) made some good saves. That’s football. Everyone in the team worked hard and put pressure on them, it was bad luck.
“I don’t think they (Hougang) really threatened us today. I haven’t see much changes from them. Previously, they lost some games that they could have won, they also lost narrowly to Albirex too.”
Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “Credit must go to the players, they put in the heart and soul, they were determined and that’s what we wanted. What we (coaching staff) can do is just shout, ultimately they (the players) are the ones playing… Naturally, it was not only Faiz (that helped us to win). Khairulhin made a few fine saves also. This is what you want to see from players, that they want to give their best.
“The boys were very encouraging. It’s a new lease of life, they wanted to train, they enjoyed the trainings (in the sessions that I’ve had with them). It’s naturally joy, they can have it now but once we head back to the pitch it’s all about focus.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK,C), Fadli Kamis, Nurullah Hussein, Hazzuwan Halim, Huzaifah Aziz, Khairuddin Omar, Fariz Faizal (Keegan Linderboom 50′), Ahmad Syahir, Vedran Mesec (Khairuddin Omar 33′), Akbar Shah Zainudeen (Sufianto Salleh 78′), Noor Akid Nordin
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Adam Mitter, Antoine Viterale (Nasrul Taib 90′), Stanely Ng (Fareez Farhan 63′), Nazrul Nazari, Fabian Kwok, Illyas Lee, Faiz Salleh, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Amir Zalani (Justin Hui 76′), Jordan Vestering