|Photo: Lionel Ng|
Starting in a 4-5-1 formation, Hougang had new signings Vidakovic at the back, while Ante Barac was in the attacking midfielder position behind lone frontman Sobrie. SAFFC on the other hand, started Shukor and Shimpei in central midfield, with Tatsuro Inui on the right wing as they played in their familiar 4-4-2 formation. Vidakovic was tasked to man-mark star man Mislav Karoglan, in what would have been an interesting match-up.
The game started off with Hougang getting their first two chances. A mix up between Daniel Bennett and Bah Mamadou presented Sobrie with a chance from outside the box, but his shot just went over the bar. Sobrie had the next chance too, after Shukor Zailan had lost the ball in his own half. This time, although the effort was on target, it wasn’t enough to trouble Shahril Jantan.
The Warriors tried to gain foothold in the match, mainly attacking down through the left wing. Zulfadli Zainal, eager to impress, displayed some nice footwork to go past Hougang’s defence on the right, but was brought down. From the resulting freekick, Inui sent in a cross that saw it cleared, but only to Daniel Bennett, who crossed in from the right. Bah took a brilliant touch but had his shot blocked for SAFFC’s first shot of the game.
If Bennett was playing as a creative midfielder, you wouldn’t have find it out of order as another good ball into the box from him found Shimpei Sakurada, only for his shot at the near post too weak to trouble Hougang’s custodian Ridzuan Fatah. From the resulting save, Ridzuan quickly released the ball which led to a quick break for Hougang, only for Sobrie’s attempted saved by Shahril yet again.
Hougang clearly came into the game with a gameplan as they had managed to shut out Mislav Karoglan and Tatsuro Inui, who were both struggling against the impressive Vidakovic and Lau Meng Meng respectively. However, SAFFC took the lead against the run of play through a well worked set piece.
Taking the freekick from the left, Tatsuro Inui sends in a beautiful cross, which was met by Fazrul’s head and into the net past Ridzuan. Hougang’s marking left a lot to be desired as no one applied any pressure on Fazrul, leaving him virtually free to head in the ball with all the time and space. Right after going 1-0 up, SAFFC played with more confidence. Shimpei Sakurada and Shukor both got hold of the midfield and kept possession, with Shukor displaying some range of passing. A beautiful down to the right side found Noh Rahman free, but his cross just evaded the head of Shimpei Sakurada.
Sobrie Mazelan though, refused to give up without a fight, as he chased down every single ball, showcasing his work ethic. As if inspired by Sobrie, his teammates started to pick themselves up and chased down every ball too. A good chance was soon presented to them. A cross from the right came in and Sobrie, left unmarked, went for the near post. Shahril Jantan dived to his left smartly and palmed the ball away, which Ante Barac could only put it wide.
Hougang started to come back into the game and were holding on to possession more, as the tide of the game changed in favour of Hougang United yet again. Ante Barac, was to be their main man, trying to set up teammates time and time again. Taking the team’s fortune into his own hands, he equalized with a beauty of a goal a few minutes before halftime to put Hougang back on level terms. Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, he took a touch and unleashed a powerful looping shot that caught Shahril by surprise. The ball went into the net off the underbar and a stranded Shahril could only look on shell-shocked. The SAFFC defenders were definitely caught offguard too as they did not close him down, allowing him the time to pull the trigger.
Both teams made a couple of changes during halftime, with Jordan Webb and Diallo among those that came on for Hougang, as Ruzaini Zainal, Erwan and ex-Hougang Centre back Eddie Chang came on for the Warriors.
The 2nd half proved what a friendly meant as both team lost momentum with all the changes made. Shukor though, continue to display his range of passing skills, this time with an exquisite cross-field ball to Ruizani Zainal on the right wing. Inui, showed some glimpse of his ability too, as he started the 2nd half in his more familiar left wing role. Linking up with Shimpei, his fellow new signing from Albirex, they both managed to set up Erwan Gunawan for an acrobatic scissor kick effort that went just over the bar.
Hougang, not to be outdone by the Warriors, had a good attempt through Jordan Webb too. From 20 yards out, Webb unleashed a fierce shot that was heading for the bottom corner, only for Shahril Jantan to palm it out for a corner at full stretch. That proved to be the final save Shahril had to make as he soon made way for Hassan Sunny.
Nenad Bacina, Hougang’s coach for 2012, has been known to give his team some creative freedom, and it shown as the introduction of Jordan Webb and Diallo meant that Hougang was playing more one-twos between the pair, exchanging lots of quick short passing. However, the final pass was always lacking in quality, and the same could be said for the Warriors as well.
The last good chance of the game came from Shimpei Sakurada, in a similar effort by Jordan Webb. This time, Ridzuan Fatah produced the same quality save Shahril Jantan had made on Webb’s effort, saving the ball at full stretch with his fingertips. From there on, both sides introduced their prime league players into the game, and both sides did not threaten as the stop-start nature of the game due to substitutions meant that both sides did not really get going in the later part of the half, which meant that the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
While there wasn’t any winner in this game, both head coaches brushed it off, saying it was just pre-season and a training match for the players to get their fitness back. Nenad Bacina added that he “was impressed with the effort made by the players” and thought they would get even better once they have more matches under their belts. Richard Bok, said that he was impressed with the overall fitness displayed by the team, in particular Shimpei Sakurada, but added that “the players still need to work on their tactical side and gel as a team.” “I want the players to play a more passing game, preferably in the half. Today we passed well, but the ball was more in our half as we passed it. I want it to be in the other half, so we can threaten the opponents.” Ending off things, he added, “ I was impressed with Inui and Shimpei, hopefully Seiji Saito will pass his beep test soon and we will get even better with him in the side, I’m sure of that.” - (SOURCE)