By Gabriel Tan
|Photo: Chris Harvey|
Basit Hamit 1’, 16’, Ante Barac 59’
Hougang United made it three wins in a row in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League after cruising to a 3-0 triumph over Balestier Khalsa on Tuesday evening.
The Cheetahs got off a terrific start when Basit Hamid opened the scoring in the first minute, before he doubled their advantage 15 minutes later when found the back of the net again with a glancing header.
Balestier came back strongly after the break and created a number of good chances, but the tie was effectively settled in the 59th minute when Ante Barac curled home a terrific freekick.
The result also meant the Tigers have now lost their last three games and will come as another blow to their title hopes after they fell to a 1-0 loss to Gombak United last Thursday.
On the other hand, Hougang entered the game off the back of a last-gasp 2-1 triumph over Geylang United last Wednesday, and while it took an injury-time winner from Jordan Webb to grab all three points then, they certainly had no such problems at the Toa Payoh Stadium as they broke the deadlock after just 21 seconds.
Picking up possession down the left, Fazli Jaffar drilled in a low cross that Tigers keeper Joey Sim could only parry upwards, allowing the alert Basit to hook the loose ball home with an acrobatic volley.
Six minutes later, Hougang created more havoc in the opposition area when Barac swung in a dangerous delivery that the Balestier defence was unable to deal with, although on this occasion Webb failed to hit the target from six yards out.
Nonetheless, there was to be no denying the visitors in the 16th minute when they were awarded yet another freekick just past the halfway line. This time, Azhar Sairudin stepped up and whipped the ball straight onto the head of Basit, who glanced his header past the onrushing Sim to double his side's advantage.
Stunned at going two behind before a quarter of the game had even gone, the hosts started to come to life and Zulkiffli Hassim came close in the 25th minute when cut in from the right and hit a fierce effort just wide.
Four minutes later, Balestier captain Paul Cunningham forced Fadhil Salim into a flying save when he met a Tengku Mushadad cross with a firm header, before Goran Subara nodded over from another set-piece situation shortly after.
One of the Tigers' main strengths this season has been their threat from aerial situations and it nearly served them well six minutes after the break when Cunningham swung in a deep freekick that Subara did well to keep alive at the far post. The Australian's nod-back went straight to
Park Kang-jin, who proceeded to fire a half-volley back across the face of goal and just beyond the reach of Zdravko Dragicevic, who was waiting unmarked from four yards out.
Four minutes later, Subara again leapt well to meet a cross from Tengku and head it back into the danger zone but Fadhil ensured neither Cunningham nor Dragicevic could get a shot away as he smothered the ball bravely at their feet.
And while it looked increasingly likely that Balestier were going to be the next team to score, Hougang all but ended the contest a minute before the hour mark when they were awarded a freekick close to the corner flag, allowing Barac to step up and curl home a sublime effort that dipped past Sim into the top corner.
Despite now having a mountain to climb, the hosts, to their credit, refused to give up and should have pulled one back two minutes later when Ruhaizad Ismail blazed a good chance over after Cunningham had flicked the ball into his path.
Dragicevic, who was starting to show some good signs after joining the club in mid-season, then did well in the 79th minute to turn his man just inside the area and lay the ball back to Subara, although the centre-back could only send a left-footed strike narrowly wide.
Two minutes later, Tigers substitute Patrick Paranjody, who had been extremely lively after coming on, looked poised to score after Park found him with a pinpoint cross from the right, following more good hold-up play from Dragicevic. However, Cheetahs captain Lau Meng Meng showed just how desperate his side were to keep only their second clean sheet in the last 13 league games, denying the 24-year-old striker with a fantastic sliding block.
There was still time for Balestier to carve out one final attempt for a consolation in injury-time when Cunningham picked up the ball on the edge of the area and hit a ferocious snapshot, but the New Zealander was once again denied by a diving save from Fadhil, who ensured his side were heading back to the Hougang Stadium with a win and a clean sheet to boot.
Balestier Khalsa: Joey Sim, Jaslee Hatta, Goran Subara, Paul Cunningham, Syed Thaha, Shafuan Sutomoh (Ruhaizad Ismail 57'), Park Kang-jin, Tengku Mushadad, Poh Yi Feng (Andrew Tan 37'), Zulkiffli Hassim (Patrick Paranjody 76'), Zdravko Dragicevic.
Hougang United: Fadhil Salim, Lau Meng Meng (Faizal Amir 87'), Hasree Zais, Stanislav Vidakovic, Fazly Hasan, Jordan Webb, Azhar Sairudin (Syaqir Sulaiman 72'), Ante Barac, Fazli Jaffar, Mamadou Diallo, Basit Hamid (Sobrie Mazelan 74'). (SOURCE)