Hougang relinquish fourth-place with 2-2 draw against Tanjong Pagar

Jaguars’ Raihan Rahman scores directly from a corner in the opening minutes but the Cheetahs hit back twice from losing positions to secure draw as the race for AFC Cup qualification intensifies

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Singapore, 16 June 2022 - Players tussled, coaches remonstrated, fans bellowed at the Jurong East Stadium on Sunday evening.


A hotly-contested clash between Tanjong Pagar United and Hougang United ended in an entertaining 2-2 draw, a match headlined by end-to-end action and rough tackles on the pitch.


It was the fourth consecutive score-draw in the last four meetings between these two sides, as nothing could separate both teams as they lost ground in the race for an AFC Cup qualification spot.

Rivals Tampines Rovers capitalised on both teams dropping crucial points, defeating Young Lions 5-2 in the other concurrent fixture, and usurping fourth place from the Cheetahs. Tampines now have a game in hand and are just four points behind Tanjong Pagar who are still sitting in third place.


Tanjong Pagar came into this clash five-points clear of fourth-placed Hougang. Both sides were aiming to make progress towards finishing third in the league after having largely antithetical seasons.


Assuming title-favourites Albirex Niigata (S) and Lion City Sailors continue to occupy the top two positions in the league, third spot would guarantee a direct AFC Cup qualification spot into the group-stages for the 2023 season.


Hougang made just one change to their lineup, playing their fourth game in the space of 12 days. Shawal Anuar came in for Amy Recha at right-wing in their usual 4-3-3 shape. Tanjong Pagar welcomed back young left-wing-back Akram Azman – who has gradually worked his way into the starting eleven – whilst Shodai Nishikawa started behind talisman Reo Nishiguchi as a support striker.


The game kicked-off to a fiery start with chances immediately exchanged at both ends.


It was the home side who threatened first, when Shodai Nishikawa snuck in between the Hougang defence to meet wing-back Akram Azman’s cross, but his tame headed effort was calmly collected by Hougang goalkeeper Mukundan Maran.


Hougang went inches away from scoring from the resulting counter-attack, but winger Kristijian Krajcek’s shot was cleared off the line by Tanjong Pagar captain Faritz Hameed.

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


On the sixth minute mark, Tanjong Pagar were awarded a corner following Hougang defender Lionel Tan’s clearance. Up stepped set-piece specialist Raihan Rahman, who curled a spectacular effort into the bottom corner of the net directly from the corner flag to cue the Jaguars’ newly-associated goal music – ‘One Kiss’ by Dua Lipa.


The away side responded by upping their tempo and found an equaliser just 105 seconds after conceding. A superb cross-field ball from Hougang midfielder Sahil Suhaimi found the chest of Shawal Anuar, who deftly scooped the ball over goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad before bundling the ball over the line.


It was end-to-end for the next half hour before drama ensued on the 36th minute mark. Tanjong Pagar midfielder Mirko Sugic appeared to have struck Hougang’s Zulfahmi Arifin in the face with his elbow whilst muscling the Singaporean international off the ball.


Referee Jansen Foo took his time before brandishing a yellow card, deciding the incident was not intentional. The decision drew vehement protests from the Hougang bench, resulting in head coach Clement Teo booked for dissent.


PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


From the resulting free-kick just inside Tanjong Pagar’s half, Raihan Rahman’s lofted ball into the box was met by midfielder Blake Ricciuto, whose headed flick-on into the turf was finished off by Reo Nishiguchi for the Japanese’s 14th goal of the season. It was an all-important goal to restore the Jaguar’s advantage.


The match ebbed to a slower pace at the start of the second half after an exhilarating first 45 minutes.


Just ten minutes after the restart however, substitute Shafiq Ghani’s strike from the edge of the penalty box cannoned off Faritz Hameed’s flailing arm, earning Hougang a timely spot-kick. Forward Pedro Bortoluzo dispatched the penalty – his fourth goal in two games – to level the scores once more.


Hougang had a golden opportunity to go in front on the hour mark, but Shawal Anuar was caught in two minds as he advanced towards goal, before he decided to square the ball for Bortoluzo. The 24-year-old Brazilian’s first-time effort was claimed by Zharfan, who leapt into the air to smother Bortoluzo’s stinging shot.


Both coaches brought on attacking firepower off the bench, Jaguars manager Hasrin Jailani sent on veteran forward Khairul Amri whilst coach Clement sent on Amy Recha, in an attempt to snatch all three points.


Krajcek had one final opportunity to seize a late victory for the Cheetahs, but his left-footed volley from outside the penalty box soared narrowly over the bar.


Tanjong Pagar head coach Hasrin Jailani, whose side currently occupy the coveted third spot in the league, claimed the draw was a fair result in a very even contest.


When asked about the atmosphere within the squad as Tanjong Pagar chase a maiden AFC Cup tournament appearance, coach Hasrin said: “The players know what we are aiming for. At this point we are trying to get as many points as possible. We know our target internally and hope to see a good result at the end of the season.”

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


The 46-year-old manager was also asked about a recent tactical switch to play winger Shodai Nishikawa centrally whilst bringing in left-wing-back Akram Azman into the starting eleven.


“Akram has done well for us. We have to play an under-23 player and (Fathullah Rahmat) is out, so we had to reshuffle a little. I think Shodai’s best position is still on the left flank, but we need speed upfront for now which is why we have been playing Shodai there recently,” he added.


Hougang head coach Clement Teo was far from pleased with the result despite seeing his charges recover twice from losing situations.


“It’s frustrating to concede two goals via set-pieces. We have done well after coming back from the AFC Cup, this (today’s performance) is unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. But going forward in the second half I cannot complain. We played four games in 12 games, yet the energy and intensity the boys showed, I can’t ask for more,” he said.


Speaking about Zulfahmi Arifin’s injury and his replacement Shafiq Ghani’s performance, coach Clement said: “Shafiq is technically a very talented player. Unfortunately, he had a very heavy knock which was why we took him out (of the starting eleven). I have signed 25 players and I need to utilise every player. Everyone is a very important member of my team. Whoever plays the game I fully trust them to give their best.”


Hougang will host Geylang International at the Hougang Stadium next Friday (Jul 22) at 5.30pm, eager to get back to winning ways. Tanjong Pagar travel to the Toa Payoh Stadium on Saturday evening (Jul 23) at the same time to play a struggling Balestier Khalsa side.


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