The Unofficial Hougang United FC Supporters Blog

Saturday, August 20, 2011

RHB Singapore Cup: Stunning Okkthar comeback falls short

Bhaskaran Kunju


What looked like the one tie that was all but over by the first leg turned out to be a race to the finish in the second, as Okkthar United gave Hougang United a fight that no one expected.

Down 0-3 on aggregate after their devastating loss earlier in the week, the Burmese side gave an all-out performance in front of a vociferous crowd of loyal Burmese supporters who had filled out nearly the entirety of their side of the allocated seats at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.

An early lead that was cancelled before the break and two second-half strikes put the visitors within touching distance of pushing the RHB Singapore Cup quarterfinals tie to an unlikely extra-time situation.

But at 1-3 for the match and 4-3 in aggregate, the night was to be the Cheetahs’ as they barely hung on to check their progress to the next round and set up a rematch of their League Cup final against Albirex Niigata (Singapore).

“I knew it was going to be very tough before the game,” said Okkthar coach PN Sivaji.

“But as the game progressed, I sensed blood. In some instances you need a supersub for times like this, but we didn’t have that.

“I think it was a logical approach. 0-3 was a mountain to climb, so why put additional pressure? Give them something else to look for.

“Now we can go back home with a win and we have three points apiece!” he quipped.

The former national coach did take time to rue his side’s near miss, but pointed out that it was not a campaign that came at a loss.

“There’s a bit of a naivety to the team,” he mused.

“We still don’t know how to get the ball out from defence. And we shouldn’t be conceding goals like that, like in the first leg, or just before half-time. When you go back to look at the goals, it was all about self-made errors.

“But I came here to win every game, to be honest; it wasn’t just for experience. The finishing is there, but we just lacked an edge. There was no direction, no purpose in their runs in the final third of the pitch.

“But if we don’t learn from this, we never will. So it’s a good learning experience.”

Sivaji also inevitably pointed out the vocal support they received that kept his team in the hunt for a fairytale upset.

“This is the first time we’ve scored three goals this season,” he remarked.

“Getting (a) high score without the main striker around gives confidence to the boys.

“I cannot forget to mention the fans. If not for them we cannot play with this kind of intensity. They were the 12th, 13th and 14th man for us!”

That unwavering support Okkthar received kept the nominal home side in dominant posessions for long periods of the game and helped them break the deadlock after just fifteen minutes of play.

Nyi Nyi Aung’s well-struck effort from the corner edge of the penalty box left replacement Hougang custodian Ridzuan Fatah Hassan clutching at air as the ball nestled into the top corner of the far post and sent the already-booming Okkthar fans into raptures.

But a shaky-looking defence that had difficulty with a tricky and pacy Jordan Webb fell victim to the forward’s darting run just minutes before the break.

A quick counterattack released Webb through on goal, and after working his way in, the Canadian curled his effort to the bottom far corner to restore his side’s precious three-goal advantage.

At that point in time, any chance of further resurrection looked to be dim, and even the unwavering Okkthar support fell into silence.

Six minutes after the restart, however, Hla Tun Aung popped up to torment Ridzuan with yet another powerful effort and threw a slim lifeline to the Burmese team.

Nyi Nyi’s firm effort from a similar position to his first was expertly matched and parried by the former Home United custodian, but the rebound fell perfectly for Hla Tun, who pushed his side ahead for the second time in the game.

A Hougang defence that started the second period slowly, and was punished by a goal for it, would be left rueing another as, right at the hour mark, Aung Myint Tun scored the highlight goal of the competition.

The 22-year-old pounced on a ball that was nicked off a poor Hougang attempt at taking the ball out of defence, and his hopefully-hit shot from the far side of the right flank took a huge loop across the entire penalty box and over Ridzuan’s head to squeeze just under the crossbar at the far post.

3-1 up and with half an hour of game time left, Okkthar pressed on for a chance that never came as Hougang resorted to putting men behind the ball.

Webb had the opportunity to put the tie out of reach in the final ten minutes of the game, but the forward poked his shot just past the far upright after finding himself behind the Okkthar defence.

With five minutes of added time given, Hougang slowly ran the clock down and frustration got the better of Nyi Nyi, who received his second yellow card of the game and hence his marching orders.

But the determination he and his teammates displayed did not go unnoticed.

“Okkthar were definitely the better side today,” said Cheetahs coach Aide Iskandar, who had come into praise by his opposite number in the buildup to the match.

“I did expect this when facing them here at Jalan Besar. It was not easy to beat them.

“But I’m quite happy. We got everything done in the first leg. I couldn’t ask for more from my boys, they gave enough tonight.

“I’m happy we’re through to the semis.”

The 36-year-old also offered his praise for his beaten opponents as well as their fans.

“The Okkthar goals were spectacular, I have to give credit to them,” said the former national captain.

“I did have thoughts of a plan B at 1-3 down. But then again, Jordan could have stolen it for us. He could have been more clinical.

The fans, their cheering, made us feel motivated,” he said in reference to the strong support the travelling side received.

“It made me want to put on my boots and play as well! But it’s good for the players, it’s a good experience for them.”

Having made their second semifinal for the season, Aide mused on his side’s chances for the competition.

“If this team plays well, and we have our key players back, we can go all the way,” he said confidently.

“It will be tough for us aginst Albirex, they won’t be easy to get past. But both teams know each quite well. It’s going to be a matter of who plays well that night.” - (SOURCE)

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