|Photo: Chris Harvey|
Notable Balestier absentees were Goran Subara and Paul Cunningham, while new signing Stanko Vidakovic was missing for Hougang. Interestingly enough, former Gombak striker Chang Jo Yoon, thought to have signed for Home United, turned out for Balestier.
Backed by a handful of the Hougang Hools, the Cheetahs dominated the first half. With ten minutes played, captain Lau Meng Meng surged forward from defence and sent Diallo clear. However, the striker was foiled by a fine stop from Joey Sim.
It took the Tigers nearly half an hour to fashion a decent opportunitu, as a cross from the right was headed over by trialist Alex Read. The Australian striker was partnered upfront with fellow trialist, Korean Kim Min Ho.
Both of them were feeding on scraps though, as Hougang monopolised possession, with Croatian playmaker Ante Barac pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch.
On the half hour, Hougang took a deserved lead. Barac started a well-worked move from midfield, which eventually saw leftback Fazli Jaffar swing in a beautiful cross on the overlap. Diallo rose highest to meet it with a powerful header into the top corner.
Zulkiffli Hassim attempted to draw Balestier level, but skied his volley from Andrew Tan’s cross, as Hougang went into the break with the lead.
Balestier re-emerged with Park Kang Jin, Tengku Mushadad, Hamqamaal Shah and Chang all taking to the field, while Hougang brought off Barac and Jordan Webb. The changes worked, as the Tigers got into the game and started to create more chances.
Then, it all kicked off around 75 minutes.
Ignatius Ang, on trial for Hougang, committed a rash tackle, and was carded for the offence. Ruhaizad Ismail appeared to mouth off in protest at the referee, and was surprisingly shown a straight red.
The mood of the game changed, and the tackles started to fly in hard and fast.
Mere minutes later, Balestier substitute ‘keeper Zakariah Nerani collided with a Hougang, as both went for a loose ball. The goalkeeper then got up, and appeared to kick out at his floored opponent. Players from both sides immediately rushed over to confront each other. Amidst the fracas, Fazli was sent off for confronting the goalkeeper, while the latter was amazingly only shown a yellow.
Both sides were now reduced to ten men, and substitute Ng Jia Fa pulled off a stunning penalty save from Tengku Mushadad late on, as Hougang held on for the win.
After the match, Hougang head coach Nenad Bacina brushed off concerns over the referee’s performance, saying:
“Players make mistakes during the game and coaches make mistakes… Sometimes we have to give credit to referees as well; I thought it was a decent game.”
“We controlled the game in the first half, and we scored a very nice goal. We tried to penetrate down the left, with Fazli overlapping… and the goal we scored was what we are looking for; this is the kind of goal that will bring the fans back.”
“We are going to Malaysia on Monday, and we have three matches in five days (including this match), so I wanted to rotate my players. In the second half we brought on some youngsters. We lost a bit of (our) shape, but I am quite satisfied with how we controlled the game today; credit to our goalkeeper as well (for the penalty save).”
He also reiterated his satisfaction with the “spirit and professional attitude” of his players.
On Ignatius Ang, he commented:
“We will sign him for the new season, but we haven’t decided whether it will be for the Prime League or S-League. He is a useful player; a natural left-footer, comfortable with the ball on the flanks or behind the striker. He has the ability and quality to improve.”
There was further controversy after the match, as one of the Hougang Hools complained that the referee had allegedly used an expletive to abuse the Hougang supporters present.
Hougang United will next embark on a 3-day tour of Malaysia, leaving on Monday, 30th January. They are scheduled to play Maybank Football Club in Kuala Lumpur that evening, before taking on Negeri Sembilan Betavia at Port Dickson on Wednesday. - (SOURCE)