|Photo: Great Easter Yeos|
The result meant Home provisionally went top of the league, while for the Aide Iskandar-led Hougang United, it is back to the drawing board as they have now shipped five goals in each of their last two games.
His team was not aided by the sending-off dished out to defender Ratna Suffian for two bookable offences late in the first half.
But even against a side reduced to ten men, this was a result Home richly deserved, after their surprise 1-1 draw against Balestier Khalsa and a 3-0 victory over Gombak United that was closer than the scoreline might have suggested.
On this occasion, however, there was no denying the significance of the margin, as the two-time S.League champions showed real signs of being good enough to go for their third.
Protectors coach Lee Lim Saeng made two changes to his starting lineup from the last game, introducing Qiu Li and the hardworking Firdaus Kasman into the team.
Hougang were meanwhile missing their foreign legion up front, as Diego Gama de Oliveira and Mamadou Diallo were both sidelined with injuries and Jordan Webb was only fit to make the bench.
In their absence, Aide fielded a makeshift strikeforce consisting two of his more impressive players so far this season in rising star Basit Abdul Hamid and former Protectors midfielder Azhar Sairudin.
Basit, though still raw in the professional league scene, did well against Kenji Arai and Valery Hiek as he forced the seasoned duo into making a few defensive errors.
One such incident happened on the half-hour mark, as Basit stole the ball from an innocuous situation and set up Azhar, who could only slot it into the side netting.
It might have been a let-off for Home, but by this time, they had already taken the lead.
With 18 minutes gone, Firdaus unleashed a stunning rocket to the top corner from all of 30 yards out, which left Hougang goalkeeper Fadhil Salim grasping thin air.
Qiu, cheered on by his family in the stands, was slowly coming into the game in his first start this season. A mazy run from his own half to the danger area on 38 minutes almost reaped rewards, until he lost his footing just as he was attempting to shoot from outside the box.
A minute later, centreback Ratna was shown a second yellow card following a tangle with Home’s Sufian Anuar, and was subsequently sent off.
There was still drama in the first period as Hougang were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time, after winger Fazli Jaffar was tripped in the box.
However, Argentinian import Carlos Delgado’s decent effort was matched by Lionel Lewis, the national custodian parrying clear to maintain the slender lead.
Despite the setback, Hougang came out of the dressing room looking to tie the game up, but Lewis once again showed imperious strength guarding his goal.
Following some good work by Mohd Noor Ali, Delgado’s volley on 53 minutes was thwarted by the custodian.
Not to be outdone, Fadhil also showed his class by superbly denying Qiu twice on 55 and 64 minutes.
Still, Home scored their second with 68 minutes of play gone, after Qiu’s cross off a corner triggered a mix-up in the Hougang defence.
The end result was an own goal, ultimately credited to Azhar.
Fadhil was again called into action with 13 minutes remaining to deny a marauding Juma’at Jantan.
A minute later, however, the 28-year-old undid all his good work as a blunder off a corner allowed substitute Firdaus Idros to head home for the Protectors’ third goal.
Home were in cruise control at this stage and started to display some flowing moves, as they sought to take advantage of the space granted to them by a Hougang side searching for some scant consolation.
And the advantage was emphatically taken with two more late goals rubbing the salt deep into the Cheetahs’ wounds.
Qiu got his name on the scoresheet with four minutes remaining, coolly slotting home after cutting in from the left wing and playing a neat one-two with substitute Asraf Abdul Rashid.
Then in injury time, Asraf capped a flowing team move himself by curling home a sweet left-footer from the edge of the box.
Hougang almost gave their fans something to shout about right at the end, but substitute Webb’s volley just missed the post after some excellent play from Fazli.
In his post-match interview, Home coach Lee credited his players for the morale-boosting victory.
“Our play is not yet perfect, but hopefully we can improve it in training and go on to be champions,” he commented.
Lee also expressed satisfaction with the minutes of good work contributed by the players on his bench.
“They are beginning to understand my instructions, and how I want them to play,” he said with a smile.
Hougang coach Aide, on the other hand, was visibly dejected.
“I’m not happy with the result, especially with the shape of our defence tonight,” he told sleague.com.
“It is unacceptable to be conceding goals off comer situations, which is something we have worked on a lot in trainings.”
The former Home star also lamented the penalty miss just before half-time.
“If we had made it 1-1, Home would have been forced to come out to attack us,” he remarked.
“In the end, it really was not our day.”
Aide might have accepted responsibility for the defeat, but he will be in a rush to rectify the problems he would have seen.
The former national captain would have onlya few days to sort things out before bringing his team to take on Etoile next Monday night.