Elwyn Lee & Paul Green
Hougang United coach Aide Iskandar was left with a broad smile across his face on Thursday evening as he saw his charges hit two goals past Geylang United without reply at Hougang Stadium.
The match saw both teams finish with one fewer man than they had started, after Diego Gama and Masrezwan Masturi had picked up straight red cards in separate incidents in the first half.
Hougang opened with a 3-5-2 formation, as did their opponents, and with strength in the engine room both ways the encounter opened promisingly.
The hosts played the better game on the overall, though, as their defensive, midfield and attacking lines coordinated well even after Gama had been dismissed.
The forward was a constant menace in more positive ways, a thunderous strike from him on 24 minutes drawing a splendid save from Geylang goalkeeper Yazid Yasin, who was able to show off his trademark reflexes on the occasion.
Yazid could do nothing to prevent the opener from happening three minutes later, though, after Hougang captain Mohd Noor Ali had released a shot from near the penalty spot that was pushed only as far as Gama, who sidestepped a defender before slotting home.
The Brazilian turned from hero to villain five minutes before the interval when he took exception to Kim Jae Hong’s tackle on him, and his attempted head-butt earned him the red card.
But Geylang were themselves reduced to ten men just before the half-time whistle came, key striker Masrezwan dishing out a robust challenge on Mamadou Diallo near the centre circle that prompted loud howls of displeasure from the Hougang bench.
Mike Wong’s boys did their hopes of a comeback little harm when Syed Thaha made a run for the Hougang goal, only to see his effort from the corner of the penalty box deflected away by Duncan David Elias.
A free kick from 20 yards out by Argentine signing Carlos Alberto sealed the game for the hosts on 73 minutes, however, as he sent his effort perfectly into the top corner beyond substitute goalkeeper Nazri Sabri.
Nazri managed to keep the score respectable for Geylang despite lively displays from Diallo and Canadian winger Jordan Webb, but on the evidence of the match, it was clear the jigsaw had not fallen into place for them yet.
Hougang on the other hand looked promising with their relatively good level of fluidity, and one-time Eagles defender Aide no doubt had much to be pleased about as he saw his side click well.
Earlier on Tuesday, Young Lions coach Robin Chitrakar found himself engaged in an interesting exercise with National Football Academy Under-18s coach Akbar Abdul Nawas as their teams sparred at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Akbar had taken charge of the team midway through 2010, when they were still known as the Under-17s, while Chitrakar was in command of the Under-18s at the time.
After watching the older team storm to second place in the Prime League last season, Akbar was aware he and his charges have big shoes to fill.
“This side today was having its first outing as a team and there are half a dozen 16-year-olds among them, including the keeper,” he remarked.
The rookies did well in the circumstances, losing 0-1 to the Young Lions, the only goal coming on 75 minutes through livewire midfielder Ignatius Ang.
Admittedly the goalkeeper was unfortunate to concede the goal after making so many fine saves up to that point, after he had appeared to have been blocked by the defenders in front of him as Ang struck from 15 yards out.
The Under-18s nonetheless acquitted themselves fairly well, going close a number of times and forcing the Young Lions custodians into action.
Chitrakar was nonetheless encouraged by the good test his charges got from their juniors.
“We weren’t doing anything tactically in this game,” he explained.
“Today was all about fitness, and on that score it went very well.
“There are seven or eight of my Under-18s from last year in the squad, and a few from last year’s Young Lions. The remainder are all new this year.
“My main task is to get this team ready for the Olympic Games qualifiers, and then the SEA Games after that (in Indonesia).
“It’s all a new experience for me, and I am sure that we will be ready for the start of the new S.League season in four weeks’ time.”
Wednesday evening’s encounter between Balestier Khalsa and Woodlands Wellington was played in a quagmire of a pitch at Toa Payoh Stadium as persistent rains rendered the ground soft.
Balestier won the day, an early volley from Australian triallist Mark McGough and an easy close-range shot from a Brazilian player simply referred to as ‘Alonso’ clinching the game before half-time had arrived.
The cut-up field made for difficult conditions, and McGough missed out on a chance to add to his goal collection in the second half when he became stuck in the mud after going clear on goal.
Another Australian, former Northern Spirit midfielder Jonti Richter, found it tough going as well, as he was seldom able to get the ball far enough ahead of him to maintain any real momentum whenever he tried to start a run.
The 27-year-old will be hoping for kinder weather the next time around should he get another chance to impress Rams coach R. Balasubramaniam.
Meanwhile it would appear that Balestier would not be using their Toa Payoh pitch for a while as it would need time to recover from the punishing match.
In overseas action, Home United got their week-long tour of Korea off to a good start as they beat Dankook University 2-0.
Dankook were the champions of the national intervarsity football tournament in 2009.
New Home signing Kim Dae Eui lasted just 15 minutes in his first match for the side after complaining of tightness in his thigh, but apart from Lionel Lewis and Rosman Sulaiman, who were nursing injuries, and Qiu Li, who did not travel, everyone was involved.
Shi Jiayi opened the scoring 40 minutes into the match after being set up by centreback Kenji Arai, another of the two-time S.League champions’ off-season recruits, while Frederic Mendy clinched the victory ten minutes from the end after picking up a Faizal Samad through pass.
(Additional reporting by Tam Cheong Yan.)