The Unofficial Hougang United FC Supporters Blog

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

League Cup: Noor Ali fires Hougang into final

Bhaskaran Kunju


Veteran campaigner Mohd Noor Ali showed that he had not lost his finalist’s touch when he fired Hougang United to an upset victory over Home United on Tuesday evening in the League Cup 2011 semifinals.

The 36-year-old, who had played in cup finals for Geylang United, SAFFC and Woodlands Wellington, kept up his streak by scoring the only goal of the game to stun heavy favourites Home 1-0 at their home turf of Bishan Stadium in front of a near-capacity crowd.

His opportunistic strike after a defensive lapse by the Protectors defence on 19 minutes was enough to settle the tie for the visiting side, who then held stubbornly firm until the final whistle.

Besides the match-winner, the affair was devoid of any real excitement and was largely scrappy, with both teams putting in disjointed performances.

Carlos Delgado’s free kick from the corner edge of the penalty box that skidded off the crossbar early in the second half was the only other credible shot on goal that Hougang managed for the night.

But the Cheetahs did just enough to keep hold of their slender lead courtesy of some resolute defending, paving the way for a monumental win that also marked the side’s third consecutive clean sheet.

“I’m proud of the boys tonight,” said Aide Iskandar of his charges’ performance.

“We worked really hard tonight, and it wasn’t an easy game at all. Home United are a quality team to be up against, but my boys handled it well. The most pleasing thing is that the boys have learnt after all these games.

“Home were not at their full strength today. I’m sure they would have been tougher if they had been at full strength.”

Missing five players on international duty, including goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, who is also recovering from injury, Home were definitely lacking the presence of their key players.

But Lee Lim Saeng’s side still started the brighter of the two teams.

An early effort by Firdaus Idros from inside the box was parried well by an alert Fadhil Salim, though the deflection took the ball towards an unmarked Masrezwan Masturi, who scuffed his chance.

Masrezwan would however last just over half an hour, being quickly replaced by Asraf Abdul Rashid, who in turn was also substituted in the second half for Faizal Samad.

The Home coach’s bold tactical switches, which have happened several times over the season already, brought little fruition this time, and with Fadhil looking in top form, there was little the hosts could conjure up in front of goal.

“I’m so disappointed with the individual performances,” said a visibly crestfallen Lee at the post-match conference.

“The opponents showed more passion than us in wanting to win tonight, I have to give credit to them.

“My guys work hard normally but tonight, no. Sometimes it’s like that, it’s just football. It depends on what’s on the players’ minds.

“But I am the coach and as coach, I take full responsibility.”

Clearly feeling defeated, the former Korea Republic international went on to explain what had gone wrong for his team and touched on the absence of his national team players.

“We didn’t play well tonight,” he indicated.

“We got caught out by a quick counterattack (in conceding the winning goal), but it’s no excuse.

“A coach has to deal with this sometimes,” he said of his missing key men. “It’s not an excuse.”

But the Home coach offered some silver lining for the season.

“We are not finished with the league yet, and I will do my best with the players in that competition. I will try my best until the end of the season.”

With a senior club official having just promised that the club would win at least one trophy this season in a press conference a day earlier to mark the club’s sponsorship renewal with Coca-Cola, Lee was certainly under pressure to deliver, but refused to shirk his responsibility despite clearly being devastated.

“I just want to say it (the defeat) is not their fault. It is my fault.”

“But I think you should interview the victorious coach now,” he politely joked before making his exit.

His Hougang counterpart Aide then shared his thoughts on the route to his first final as a coach.

“I’m so happy for the team, now we are in the final,” noted the soft-spoken coach.

“But it’s not going to be easy, we’re playing in three days’ time. That would make it four games in nine days.

“Our energy levels have been a bit down, as you can see from today’s performance. There were tired legs out there but mentally they were still strong. I’m happy they worked hard collectively.”

The former Singapore international then let on that despite their fairytale run that had seen the side defeat both Home and Singapore Armed Forces FC, the odds were still against them.

“Definitely we are going to be underdogs,” he stressed when speaking of his possible opponents in the final.

“Both teams (Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Tampines Rovers) are quality teams. They have beaten us handsomely in the league too. So we are definitely the underdogs going into the final regardless of whichever of the two we face.” - (SOURCE)

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