SPL 2022: 10-men Hougang snap 3 match winless run with 2-1 victory over Young Lions

Goals from Zulfahmi Arifin and Sahil Suhaimi seal crucial win for the Cheetahs who were reduced to 10-men with Anders Aplin given his marching orders in the 68th minute

Sahil Suhaimi celebrates his goal that made the difference in a tense affair at Hougang Stadium. PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Singapore, 11 April 2022 - Hougang United picked up their second win of the AIA Singapore Premier League season with a narrow 2-1 win over cellar-dwellers Young Lions last night at the Hougang Stadium.

Cheetahs head coach Clement Teo made four changes in a switch to a 4-3-3 formation - bringing in Nazhiim Harman, Lionel Tan, Shahfiq Ghani and veteran striker Shahril Ishak for Fabian Kwok, Andre Moritz, Amy Recha and the injured Shawal Anuar.

The away side remained unchanged in their 3-4-1-2 set up with Joel Chew utilised as the central playmaker behind strikers Glenn Kweh and Khairin Nadim. National team players Ilhan Fandi and Zulqarnaen Suzliman were both ruled out with injuries.

Hougang started the game on the front foot, stringing passes together smoothly and looking the likelier of both sides to break the deadlock. It took them till the 18th minute to register their first shot on target, when midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin’s long-range effort was parried away by Ridhwan Fikri.

The rebound fell into the path of Nazrul Nazari, who appeared to have been caught by Young Lions defender Ryhan Stewart in the penalty box, drawing huge protests from Hougang coaches Firdaus Kassim and Clement Teo from the dugout to no avail.

Farhan Zulkifli – who picked up an injury in the warmup but wanted to carry on – hit the deck on the 22nd minute mark forcing coach Clement into an early change. On came Sahil Suhaimi, who slotted in as a left-winger as Nazrul dropped back to left-back.

The breakthrough eventually came in remarkable fashion. Receiving a short corner from Kristijian Krajcek in the 38th minute, Zulfahmi rifled a powerful drive from way outside the penalty box into the back of the net.

A common football myth is that a team is most vulnerable after scoring, and Hougang would give credence to the theory by conceding just three minutes later.

Veteran striker Shahril Ishak (left) was one of four changes made by coach Clement Teo at the start of the match against Young Lions. PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

A pinpoint through ball by Joel Chew found its way to Glenn Kweh, who beat an onrushing Ridhuan Bahrudin to square for wing-back Ryhan Stewart to notch his first goal of the season for Young Lions.

Hougang were fired up after the restart and got the go-ahead goal in the 52nd minute when centre-back Nazhiim Harman’s wild airborne clearance was not dealt with by the Young Lions defence. Substitute Sahil Suhaimi was first to react, using his chest to bring the ball down into his path before slipping it through Ridhwan Fikri’s legs to restore the Cheetah’s advantage.

Young Lions were handed a lifeline as drama struck just past the hour mark. Hougang defender Anders Aplin appeared to have punched midfielder Shah Shahiran in the face during an off-the-ball incident.

Immediately stopping play and after consulting his assistant officials, referee Clarence Leow dished out a red card to a fuming Anders, leaving Hougang to play the final 22 minutes with 10-men.

Hougang United players celebrate Zulfahmi Arifin's opening goal. PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Hougang shifted to a 5-3-1 shape in response to the numerical deficit, with Zulfahmi dropping into defence and Krajcek playing at right wing-back. Things were made worse when defender Nazhiim Harman had to be stretchered off the pitch, forcing midfielder Kaishu Yamazaki to play in defence as well.

The away side pressed on for the equaliser as coach Nazri Nasir introduced Zikos Chua and Danish Qayyum. Defender Jordan Emaviwe crashed a free-kick off the crossbar before forward Khairin Nadim forced Ridhuan into a one-handed save with the last kick of the game.

Hougang scrapped by and secured an important victory in what they hoped would be the end of a bad spate of recent results.

Coach Clement Teo was delighted with his team’s performance after the red card, praising their defensive organisation in adversity. When asked about the run of poor results, coach Clement issued an impassioned plea to Hougang fans.

Hougang United's Sahil Suhaimi found the net from the tightest of angles to give the Cheetahs all 3 points on the night. PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

“I can understand their (the fans’) frustration. I know that Rome was not built in a day. Expectation is normal but give us time as we want to do something that is possession-based and more attractive. We have to remember Sailors took two years to win the league playing possession-based football. We are working with a lower budget and trying to educate the players. It is not just about running all the time. Ultimately people can have different opinions, but we do what we think is best for the team,” he said.

Young Lions manager Nazri Nasir was without Ilhan Fandi and Zulqarnaen Suzliman due to long-term injuries but reiterated his desire to play his best starting 11 available.

“We can say that we played good football but winning is still important. We tried our best, but the result didn’t fall our way today. The situation with Young Lions is unique. We can train the whole week but two days before the game I have players unavailable due to national service. It’s always a problem, but what’s more important is the players executing their tactical instructions when selected,” he said.

Young Lions host Geylang at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Friday (Apr 16) in hopes of securing their first SPL points of the season. Hougang will be without a league fixture until May 6, when they host Lion City Sailors in a rematch of their opening-day 3-1 defeat at Hougang Stadium.

Post match interview with Hougang United head coach Clement Teo, match winner Sahil Suhaimi and Young Lions Head Coach Nazri Nasir.

Writer’s Assessment

Without a settled starting 11, Hougang are still a work in progress. Besides battling their way to achieve a commendable draw against Albirex last weekend, the Cheetahs often look disjointed as they continue to adapt to their new attacking philosophy.

Heavily relying on deep-lying playmaker Kaishu Yamazaki to dictate play from deep, there is a dissonance between attack and defence leaving Hougang’s midfield looking empty at times. They are lacking coordinated dropping movements from the attackers, who often start high up the pitch but leave Hougang exposed on the counter when the ball is lost.

However, as coach Clement mentioned, he believes in this possession-based brand of football as it allows his players to run less over the course of games. Hougang fans must remain patient as the coaching team aims to find the right formula with lots of chopping and changing still in action. Once the players find their sweet spots in this rejuvenated system, Hougang will be a force to reckon with in the coming seasons ahead.

Young Lions have produced impressive displays despite losing all five league games thus far. They forced Tanjong Pagar to come-from-behind in a 3-2 defeat, and battled league leaders Sailors to a narrow 1-0 loss.

Nazri Nasir has instilled stability in this team with a unique 3-4-1-2 formation, allowing Singapore’s most talented young attackers in Joel Chew, Glenn Kweh and Khairin Nadim to shine whilst not having to worry about defensive solidity. Centre-back Jordan Emaviwe has impressed in recent games, and it will not be long before Young Lions get the results they want if they continue playing in this fashion.

AIA Singapore Premier League 2022

Other Game Week 7 Results

Tampines Rovers 3-3 Albirex Niigata Sat, 9 Apr 2022, Our Tampines Hub

Lion City Sailors 6-1 Tanjong Pagar United Sat, 9 Apr 2022, Jalan Besar Stadium

Geylang International 0-1 Balestier Khalsa Sun, 10 Apr 2022, Our Tampines Hub

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