Last season’s surprise package Hougang United kicked off their preparations for 2012 with a comfortable 4-0 trouncing of National Football League powerhouse Singapore Cricket Club at the Padang on Sunday evening.
Syaqir Sulaiman opened the scoring early in the first half, before second-half goals from Mamadou Diallo, Hafeez Shahni and Shameer Aziq sealed a satisfying result for new Hougang coach Nenad Bacina.
The first half started in the perfect manner for the Cheetahs, as they went one goal up within four minutes.
A free kick whipped by Azhar Sairudin from the right saw centreback Syaqir glancing the ball past the SCC goalkeeper.
The duo were part of an all-local side that featured in the first 45, with Faizal Amir, Lau Meng Meng, Fazli Jaffar, Sobrie Mazelan and goalkeeper Ridzuan Fatah Hassan among those retained from the class of 2011.
Meanwhile the former Balestier Khalsa duo of Ridhwan Osman and Nurhilmi Jasni also made their debuts for the Cheetahs.
Apart from the goal, though, the first half was a forgettable affair. Despite having the better of the exchanges down the flanks, Hougang’s crosses into the box were often cleared by the SCC defence.
The second half saw Bacina making almost wholesale changes by bringing in three foreigners and a string of Prime League boys.
Diallo and new Croatian imports Ante Barac and Stanislav Vidakovic made up the foreign trio, with former Tanjong Pagar United backup Ng Jia Fa playing in goal and Geylang United’s graduating Prime League duo Hasree Zais and Khayrulhayat Jumat helping to make up some notable names among the locals.
In total, more than 22 players took to the field for the Cheetahs in an approach which Bacina explained was crucial to the club’s development.
“We mixed up the team today and played more than 22 players,” he said.
“We displayed the two new Croatian players and Diallo, who just came back on 31 December, but (Canadian wingman) Jordan Webb did not play because he just arrived two days ago. Besides that, we played many Prime League players because we’re counting on them next season as well.”
The changes made for a far more memorable second half, with a much more complete team performance by the Cheetahs.
Midfielder Barac looked a good replacement for departing Argentine playmaker Carlos Delgado with his vision and passing ability, while Vidakovic showed composure on the ball when bringing it out of defence, as well as a penchant for going forward.
The impact Barac made was almost immediate as his precise dead-ball delivery ensured Diallo rose the highest to head into the top right corner on 54 minutes.
Meanwhile Prime League starlets like Shameer, Hafeez and Fazli Yahaya, who were brought in by assistant coach Hyrizan Jufri from his Centre of Excellence teams, showed glimpses of their budding potential.
A great move started by Barac involved Diallo and Fazli before Shameer hit over from close range on 56, before Nurhilmi’s curler just inside the box five minutes later was tipped over.
Barac also rocked the crossbar with a left-footed curler on 70 minutes.
Eventually their approach paid dividends with two goals in the closing stages.
An incisive Barac ball sent Hafeez clean through on goal, and the latter coolly slotted home on 87, before Vidakovic played a clever pass on one of his ventures upfield to Shameer, who thumped home despite close attention from an SCC defender.
“It’s not easy to put everything in order and gel the team in one game and two weeks of training,” mused Bacina afterwards.
“It’s good to win no matter who the opposition is. What I was looking forward to and trying to do was the professional approach (of my team).
“No matter who we’re playing against, whether it’s a Division One club or Manchester City, we have to play with our full commitment!
“The main thing now is that we’re facing the Beep Test next week, which hopefully most of them can pass, so that we can concentrate on the team development.”
The 40-year-old also paid tribute to the Hougang supporters, better known as the Hougang HOOLs, who turned up in full force to cheer the team on.
Photo: PoHui, Chris Harvey
“I’m not new in Singapore football, this is my seventh year here, after spending five as a player at SAFFC and one as coach of Woodlands (Wellington in 2009),” he said.
“This is the first time, I have to admit, that a fan club is supporting us in friendly matches, and it’s something new over here. I’m very pleased and surprised with them, who were very well-organised, thus I want to say a big thank you to all of them.” (SOURCE)