TPUFC 1 - 3 HGFC
In what looked initially like being a humdrum affair at Clementi Stadium on Saturday night, visitors Hougang United overcame a 0-1 deficit early in the second half to blitz home side Tanjong Pagar United 3-1, thanks largely to an electric hat-trick inside five minutes by injury-prone Diego de Oliveira.
It was of course a wholehearted team effort that won the day, though the three-goal haul certainly turned things around, totally deflating a team that had outshone them completely in a goalless first half.
Hougang, urged on by their most vocal contingent of supporters in a long while, including their own Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong, who wore the Cheetahs’ colours as proudly as any of the other ‘Hools’, as the fans called themselves, proved too good on the night.
Ridzuan Fatah Hassan took over in goal from Fadhil Salim, while Vitor Borges was a notable absentee, as were suspended Argentinean midfield maestro Carlos Delgado and injured Canadian winger Jordan Webb.
Aide Iskandar made a half-time change, bringing on Faizal Amir for Lau Meng Meng, and also introduced Eddie Chang at the hour mark to take over from Syaqir Sulaiman.
By then, however, Hougang had gone a goal down, and it was not looking good for the visitors.
After dominating the first half and seeing their old boy Ridzuan make many fine saves and show excellent initiative to come off his line many a time, the home team finally took the lead on 56 minutes.
A lovely through ball from substitute Israel Tan, who had replaced Arisman Arman late in the first half, put Hafiz Nor through on goal, and his finish was clinical.
Having been so on top of their opponents for that first hour and then having hit the lead, it seemed the Jaguars would go on and win the game comfortably.
But Hougang had other ideas entirely.
Already strong in defence and showing plenty of bite in midfield, Hougang were to draw inspiration from veteran winger and captain Mohd Noor Ali.
The 36-year-old teased his marker down the left flank as he made his way to the byline on 61 minutes. He eventually got there and pulled the ball back nicely for Oliveira at the far post to steer the ball home with a typical striker’s finish.
Oliveira had also looked sharp in the first half with a header on 40 minutes off a Fazli Jaffar cross, though that was cleared off the line by a trio of relieved Jaguars defenders.
Even before that, the Brazilian had fired just wide as he put himself well and truly about on a gluepot of a pitch, his shirt by the end indicating his commitment as much as any other player out there.
Oliveira has missed many games this season due to injury or doubts over his fitness thereafter, with four other foreigners on the Hougang books ensuring he would only start when 100 percent fit.
This time, he was intent on making every chance count.
Barely a minute after putting his team level on 61 minutes, Oliveira saw teammate Aqhari Abdullah hit the post as Tanjong Pagar goalkeeper Ng Jia Fa looked beaten before he had launched himself into the air to try and make a save.
Diego was the beneficiary soon after when the young goalkeeper spilled Mamadou Diallo’s low, venomous cross from the right, slamming the ball home from close range.
Two more minutes elapsed before the Brazilian, out wide on the right, struck an absolute screamer that flew into the centre of the goal, with Ng completely bemused.
That devastating five minutes of mayhem destroyed Tanjong Pagar’s confidence gained from taking the lead minutes earlier.
It should all have been so different as wave after wave of Jaguars attacking saw chance after chance squandered, a litany of which the team themselves would probably not want to be reminded of.
While Ridzuan played his part with a few fine saves, the profligacy of the Tanjong Pagar forwards was exasperating for their coach Terry Pathmanathan.
“We should have been five goals up at the break, so to lose like this is very disappointing,” he lamented.
“The defending was very poor. The players have tried hard this season, but they have been found wanting right up until the last match, so I can’t think about how Woodlands (Wellington) do in their last game on
Monday, as we have had our chance today and not taken it.
“I think they had four chances and scored three. We had far more than that and only scored once.”
Aide on the other hand was proud of his Hougang players.
“This group of players has worked very hard all season, and I hope as many of them as possible can stay together even though I won’t be at Hougang next season,” he said, confirming rumours that had been circulating for some time.
“At half-time I told the players that they had to change their game to meet the conditions, and their passing game would not be of any use on this pitch as the ball was holding up too much.”
The 36-year-old’s words were certainly heeded, despite going one goal down.
Oliveira, the man of the moment, was delighted with his rapidfire hat-trick.
“I only had five goals before today and now I have eight,” he chuckled.
“It’s my first hat-trick for Hougang and I’m sure it’s my fastest hat trick too.
“I don’t have any idea what I will be doing next season,” said the brilliant Brazilian, no doubt hoping his efforts might put him in the proverbial shop window.
Hougang now can finish the season at a best-ever seventh place, even with five points deducted back in May, with only a Geylang United win over Home United on Sunday night possibly denying the Cheetahs that landmark finish.
After the players left the field, many of them with muddied and sodden shirts, Aide was given an ‘early shower’ by his players as they tipped the contents of their ice bucket and drinks container over him.
While Oliveira’s shirt no longer looked blue, Aide’s pink shirt looked decidedly grey, but for him and the fans it was a great way to go out on a winning note, and with their Brazilian drawing level with his captain
Noor Ali on eight for the season.
“I have only played eleven games,” the likeable Diego explained.
“An operation kept me out for three months, but doctors told me it should have been six. I had to show the fans what I could do, but I kept getting injured.”
Hougang defender Chang, was taken to hospital after reporting being distressed in the dressing room after the match, so fans who gave him a good send-off will hope to hear that he is well taken care of by the medicos and makes a full recovery for the 2012 season. - (SOURCE)