If Home United are to make it back to the AFC Cup in 2019, they will have to stop dropping points in the SPL starting with Hougang this weekend.
Facing an uphill battle to catch Tampines Rovers for second spot, stuttering Home United’s next task do not come easier as they come up against a revitalised Hougang United outfit at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday evening.
The Protectors huffed and puffed, but a depleted side was simply not strong enough to defeat Tampines as they fell to a 1-0 defeat on Tuesday night – a result that left them seven points off second spot in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) and having played a game more.
If Aidil Sharin’s men are harbouring any thoughts of returning to the AFC Cup for a third successive year in 2019, they can ill-afford to drop any more points.
With a number of key players still in the treatment room, Home are up against it in the hectic month of July – where they will play eight matches in the space of 29 days, including the two-legged Singapore Cup quarterfinal tie against Tampines.
Having won just one out of their last four matches, the Bishan-based club will need to get back into their groove quickly and gather some confidence ahead of the two-legged AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal final against Philippines giants Ceres-Negros in early August.
“We have our issues with missing players, but it’s all a learning process – we just have to work harder as a unit and stay stronger together,” defensive midfielder M. Anumanthan told FOX Sports Asia.
“It’s all in our mindset. As long as we are focused on our targets and have a goal, we’ll be able to achieve it together. We’ve bounced back a couple of times from disappointing results and I believe we’re able to do it again.”
Of course it is easier said than done, with Hougang looking revitalised since Clement Teo succeeded Philippe Aw in the coaching hot seat.
The Cheetahs showed that their 1-0 away win over Balestier Khalsa was no fluke as they followed it up with a gritty 1-1 draw against Brunei DPMM at the National Stadium last weekend.
Should they continue in this manner, they have every chance of getting out of their doldrums – they are still four points adrift of second-bottom Geylang International FC, but have the advantage of two games in hand.
“It’s all about the positive vibes that are spreading around the team,” commented forward Stanely Ng, whose gorgeous outside-foot penalty against DPMM won him the SPL Goal of the Week.
“Coach Clement has spoken about the importance of us coming into training to enjoy ourselves and we are doing exactly that. Every single player is eager to show what they can do for this team and we know we have to keep improving to improve our position in the table.”
The two sides will face off at Jalan Besar Stadium for this one, as Bishan Stadium is currently under maintenance to facilitate the preparations for the upcoming International Champions Cup (ICC).
Interestingly three out of the last five head-to-heads have been played at the venue, with Home and Hougang winning one each while the other one ended in a draw.
In the earlier meeting this season, Hougang came from two goals down to hold the Protectors to a 3-3 home draw – setting things up nicely for this latest encounter.
TEAM NEWS: Just like the last two matches, Home will miss out on the services of five players.
Sirina Camara and Juma’at Jantan are out for the rest of the season due to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, while Fazli Ayob and Christopher Van Huizen are still not fit enough for action. Talismanic South Korea attacker Song Ui-Young is the biggest absentee as he requires another week to recover from a pulled hamstring.
The good news though, is that young midfielder Muhelmy Suhaimi is now fit to make his first appearance for the club after clearing the league’s mandatory Yo-yo test a few days ago.
Hougang have lesser troubles on their end, with Shahfiq Ghani still doubtful after missing the last three games due to injury. The positive news is Illyas Lee will return from a one-game suspension to boost their defensive options.
Home United FC: WLWDL
Hougang United FC: LLLWD
02/05/18 Hougang 3-3 Home – Singapore Premier League
26/11/17 Home 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
15/10/17 Hougang 0-2 Home – Singapore Premier League
10/07/17 Home 1-1 Hougang – League Cup
30/06/17 Home 2-3 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Hafiz Nor (Home United FC)
With three goals and five assists in the SPL, Hafiz have been one of the bright sparks for Home this season. Without Song, the 29-year-old’s pace and tenacity is especially crucial for the Protectors in the attacking third.
Amir Zalani (Hougang United FC)
It has taken some time, but Amir is now beginning to start more games and finding more confidence at this level. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has a repertoire of skills that can excite the crowd and he will surely have a point to prove against his former side.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Home midfielder M. Anumanthan: “I think we still have a chance to finish second… We need to regroup (after losing to Tampines) and it can only make us better. It will be a tough battle against Hougang, but every team has given us a good challenge this season so we have to prepare for it seriously.
“It’s a special feeling (to face former club Hougang)… You always want to give something extra on the pitch in such games. I heard the HOOLs (Hougang’s unofficial supporters’ club) chanting my name (in the 3-3 draw earlier this season) which makes more special. I can’t thank them enough and they already know how much they means to me.”
Hougang forward Stanely Ng: “It was tough not playing regularly initially, but I always respect the coaches’ decision and continue to train well. I’m glad I’m playing more often now. My motto is ‘Happy mind, happy life’.
“Scoring at the National Stadium is definitely one of my footballing highlights and I hope the fans like it (the penalty). I’m adapting to my new role as a striker for the team and I’m determined to improve for the team.
“It’s going to be tough against Home – just like any side – but by following the coaches’ game plan and with the right attitude, we should be fine.”