Tam Cheong Yan
Carlos Delgado took this a little too far when he was called for two fouls in the space of the opening six minutes, although he came close to having more positive moments when he missed a fleeting chance to fire the first shot in the Albirex box.
The Argentine then had another glorious opportunity twelve minutes in following a move involving Vitor Borges and Webb, as the tension began to rapidly mount amid loud cheering from supporters of both sides.
Still, most of the early chances were going to Hougang, including a long-range shot from Delgado on 18 minutes that a fully-stretched Matsushita was relieved to see rebound off the post.
But with Webb busy on the flanks and Borges offering little other than his powerful frame to hold up the ball for others, the Cheetahs were feeling the absence of Mamadou Diallo, who has been out injured throughout the tournament.
At time they appeared quite happy to stroke the ball around between midfield and defence, a marked departure from their swashbuckling style that had seem them overrun many an opponent in both the league and the RHB Singapore Cup.
Perhaps it was the exertion that came from playing their third match in seven days, the previous two turning out to be two-hour affairs against Geylang United and Tampines Rovers.
Whatever the cause was, the White Swans looked wiser, more patient, almost Zen-like in their approach to the game as they descended upon Hougang in somewhat more controlled fashion.
Hougang responded swiftly with a free kick of their own at the other end, but Webb, having beaten the offside flag in racing to meet a Delgado delivery, ended up blasting his shot horrendously high from all of six yards out.
2,259 fans present seemed satisfied by what they saw as an entertaining game between the two sides, even if chances were relatively few up to that point.
The second half did not take long to produce its first chance, Matsushita smothering a stray pass at the start of the second minute before a Hougang man could break free of his marker.
Rightback Ryuta Hayashi then found himself in the unusual situation of having a chance to shoot on the edge of the area, following a move that had lined up as many as five Albirex players for a shot on goal.
Hayashi fired meekly, making life relatively easy for Fadhil, who had little to do on the night other than to make many routine catches and saves, many of them off corners and free kicks.
That Albirex had few chances from open play was a credit to some disciplined team defending from the Cheetahs rearguard, with Ratna often coming to the fore.
The White Swans were similarly tight at the back, and while Kawakami was most visible for his big clearances, special mention had to be given to the excellent work done by anchorman Shuhei Hotta, who together with Kawakami kept a tight watch on Borges in the centre.
It was a situation Hougang did not seem to mind, even though Webb again had a fleeting glimpse at a great chance when Takuya Hidaka prevented him from pulling the trigger on 75 minutes.
Unusually, though, their opponents seemed equally happy to just play the minutes out, which was very different from how things had been in the two sides’ first league encounter this season.
Admittedly Hougang were not quite the roughhouse side they were back in April, but they remained willing to dish out some heavy tackles, particularly late in regulation time.
But the Japanese were not frustrated at all this time – not even the previously-combustible Saito, who was taken down heavily by Webb on 86 minutes but then simply picked himself up and walked away.
The Hougang fans were equally unsuccessful in their attempts to rile the opposition with their frequently-repeated allegations of ‘always cheating’ and ‘diver’, as the men in orange and blue seemed dead set on getting on with their job while blocking all distractions out of their heads.
Matsushita guessed correctly and saved the low shot, and as everyone at the club erupted in joy, there was a sense of that familiar raw innocence and excitement for the first time on the day.
On the evidence of the football played, however, it was clear that this group of Albirex players, in going so far and lifting the League Cup trophy, has indeed shown signs of new maturity. - (SOURCE)