SPL 2022: Hougang United 3-3 Albirex Niigata

Albirex miss chance to go top with pulsating 3-3 draw against superb Hougang, as Cheetahs dominate large periods of the game but were undone by two set-piece goals and a goalkeeping gaffe

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Singapore, 30 July 2022 - Albirex Niigata (S) missed a golden opportunity to go top of the AIA Singapore Premier League (SPL) standings on Friday night after playing out a pulsating 3-3 draw with Hougang United.


With the draw, Albirex Niigata closed the gap on league leaders Lion City Sailors to one point with ten games remaining. Hougang, still in fifth position, also lost ground in the race for an AFC Cup qualification spot – likely to be awarded to the third-placed team – trailing Tanjong Pagar United in third by four points having played a game more.


It was a drastically different performance by Hougang – they dominated the title contenders from the start and kept up their intensity for 90 minutes – in comparison to their languid 5-0 defeat to Albirex just two months ago.


More match photos available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Cheetahs manager Clement Teo bemoaned his side’s poor set-piece defending which allowed Albirex to get back into the game twice but was pleased with his team’s performance.


“How we set up against Albirex today shows the quality we have. For once, since 2019 – the last time we beat Albirex – we were going at them,” he said.


“I told the boys, we were thrashed 5-0 before we left for Ho Chi Minh (to compete at the AFC Cup), do we really want this result again? Or do we want to take revenge? The boys tried and I’m pleasantly pleased with how things went. In terms of dominating the game, the number of shots taken. It’s been some time since the team has dominated Albirex,” added coach Clement Teo.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


The big news from Hougang stadium an hour before kick-off was the absence of 10-goal Albirex striker Ilhan Fandi with illness from the matchday squad. Fellow Singaporean Zamani Zamri started in his place, as the free-scoring Kodai Tanaka was shifted from his usual position on the left flank – in a 4-2-3-1 system – into a central striker role.


Hougang went with an aggressive, attack-oriented 4-1-4-1 set-up, as the attacking-minded Amy Recha started ahead of defensive midfielder Fabian Kwok, pushing Kaishu Yamazaki into a deeper midfield role. It was the only alteration head coach Clement Teo made from the eleven that defeated Tampines Rovers 4-2 just six days ago.


An even start to proceedings quickly changed on the 12th minute mark, when a weak back pass from Hougang’s Lionel Tan was not cleared from danger by 17-year-old goalkeeper Aizil Yazid. Albirex winger Masahiro Sugita swooped in opportunistically and nipped the ball away, before tapping home into an empty net to give the away side an early lead.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Hougang responded with a flurry of attacks, as Brazilian forward Pedro Bortoluzo squandered a trio of half-chances; first dragging a right-footed strike wide of the post, then miscuing a half-volley over the bar when inside the six-yard box, before powering a free header from a similar position that was smartly saved by Albirex stopper Takahiro Koga.


Despite striking the post twice right before the interval, Hougang struggled to find a breakthrough despite dominating the majority of the first half.


Cheetahs manager Clement Teo brought on right-back Muhaimin Suhaimi for Jordan Vestering after the break, shifting to a 4-4-2 formation with Amy Recha wide and Shawal Anuar instructed to play alongside Bortoluzo upfront – presumably aiming to put pressure on Albirex’s defence in search of an equaliser.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


The home side’s persistence would eventually pay off on the hour mark, as an out-swinging corner kick from winger Kristijian Kracjek was nodded into the net by Bortoluzo for his ninth goal of the season.


With the scores level once more, Albirex manager Kazuaki Yoshinaga reacted by introducing talisman Tadanari Lee – returning from a lengthy injury lay-off – for Zamani Zamri.


However, momentum was still with the home side, and after creating a constant supply of threatening attacking situations, coach Clement Teo’s side took a deserved lead in the 73rd minute.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


A long ball sent forward was deftly brought to ground by Shawal Anuar, before the Singapore international skillfully weaved through the Albirex defence to set up Bortoluzo. The 26-year-old composed himself, shifted the ball away from surrounding defenders before firing an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner of the net.


The lead would last merely four minutes, as Albirex urgently upped their intensity and Hougang momentarily switched off while defending a set-piece. Substitute Tadanari Lee was quickest to react to a loose ball from a corner kick, lashing a half-volley past Aizil Yazid’s reach to restore parity.


It was end-to-end action for the closing 10 minutes as defenders dove in for blocks, forwards jostled to be first to loose-balls, and coaches gesticulated wildly from the sidelines.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Then, on the 85th minute mark, Hougang’s Sahil Suhaimi received the ball in the middle of the pitch. The midfielder sent a superb lofted through ball onto Shawal Anuar’s path, and the latter skipped past onrushing goalkeeper Takahiro Koga to curl into the net a left-footed effort whilst off balance. Hougang had the advantage again, by the score of three goals to two.


In a stunning twist of events, Albirex would still find time to draw level three minutes later. Set-piece specialist Masaya Idetsu lined-up a 30-yard free-kick from the centre of the pitch. The 23-year-old Japanese took a deep breath, set himself, before delivering a spectacular dipping effort into the top corner of the net.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


That was how the game would conclude as both teams had to settle for a share of the spoils after a thrilling finish to a match that left spectators gripping onto the edge of their seats.


Albirex manager Yoshinaga, with the help of a translator, acknowledged the quality of Hougang and was pleased his side avoided defeat.


“What’s more important is we are top of the table come the end of the season. We cannot control the ball as well as usual (due to the poor pitch conditions) but it was the same for our opponents,” he added.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Speaking about the half-time tactical switch to a 4-4-2, Hougang manager Clement Teo said: “We wanted runners in behind (Albirex’s defence). Amy [Recha] did a few times, but Shawal [Anuar] was a lot more effective and we took a risk. Shawal did what we wanted him to do, we did not want him (Shawal) defending as he needed to stay up top to get the goals.”


“We wanted to have five attacking players from the start to push Albirex to play long balls. When that happens it’s 50-50. Once we moved forward, we had players able to penetrate their defence. This was our plan. We can't just sit deep waiting for Albirex to attack us. If you give a team like Albirex time and space, they will definitely kill you,” coach Teo added.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


The 55-year-old veteran coach also commented on an allegation made by Straits Times journalist Deepanraj Ganesan on Thursday evening about Hougang assistant manager Firdaus Kassim resigning from his role.


“There was a misunderstanding two months ago and we sorted things out in Vietnam. At that point of time he (Firdaus Kassim) was very upset, but we spoke about it and we settled it. Perhaps he told someone, but it’s funny this only comes up now.”


“We had breakfast in the morning, and we were discussing how to play against Albirex, we talked about next season – what we were trying to do, who we were trying to bring in – and we were all wondering what rubbish this is,” said coach Teo.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


“I fully understand, Deepanraj (Ganesan) has his source, a very good source I believe, at the end of the day it is his personal twitter account. There is nothing we can do. I had a word with him and that’s the reason why he updated his (earlier) tweet. I was very honest and open with him that there was no issue. Let’s not make a big fuss out of this,” he added.


Coach Teo paused for a moment before concluding: “It probably motivated our players a little more. Our tactical genius is still around.”


More match photos available in our photo gallery here.


AIA Singapore Premier League 2022

Other Match Week 19 Results


Lion City Sailors vs Balestier Khalsa Sat, 6 August 2022, Jalan Besar Stadium


Young Lions vs Tanjong Pagar United Sun, 7 August 2022, Jalan Besar Stadium


Albirex Niigata vs Young Lions Wed, 10 August 2022, Jurong East Stadium


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