Spirited Tigers Hold Cheetahs
Written by: Nevin Gabriel Khoo
Hougang United missed the chance to leapfrog Geylang International into fifth spot in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League after they were held to a goalless draw by a gritty Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium on Saturday night.
Although they were favourites in this tie, the Cheetahs started the game cautiously and only managed their first shot on target in the tenth minute.
Trying his luck from just outside the penalty box, Fareez Farhan’s tame shot was easily gathered by Tigers' custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Hougang came close to opening the scoring five minutes later as Faiz Salleh connected with a header off captain Azhar Sairudin’s corner kick but the former could only rue his luck as he watched his header crash off the crossbar.
The visitors utilised their wingers as they tried to penetrate Balestier’s backline through Nazrul Nazari on the right flank, giving Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit and Ahmar Syahir a headache for most of the first-half.
But it was not one-way traffic as the host had their go at goal too. The closest they came was in the 28th minute but Kyaw Chit’s header flew inches off the post.
There were nervy moments for Tigers head coach Marko Kraljevic in the 33rd minute as Zaiful made a mess of Fabian Kwok’s shot. But thankfully for the goalkeeper, he was able to recover in time and clear the ball to safety.
Philippe Aw’s saw his side reduced to ten men as Nazrul was given his marching orders from referee Jansen Foo for an altercation with Kyaw Chit in the 52nd minute.
The Tigers quickly took advantage of their numerical superiority as they launched a counter-attack in search of the elusive goal.
But Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid denied Fadli Kamis his moment of glory as he pulled off a stupendous save from point blank a minute after the hour mark.
Buoyed by that attempt, the hosts grew in confidence and dominated proceedings in the final quarter. Huzaifah Aziz did well to beat his markers as he twinkled past the Tigers defence from the right wing, but was let down by poor finishing.
Both sides continued to press forward in the final minutes of the match but they were unable to make decent shots on goal and had to settle for a point each.
With the result, Balestier remained in seventh position on eight points, with Hougang a spot above them on 20 points.
Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kreljevic: “I’m very pleased with the performance of the boys. We only missing the last part (finishing).”
“Crosses by Tajeli on the right side were great. We are just still struggling up front in terms of finishing off the chances and I’m pleased with the performance but not the scoreline.”
“We improved in our defending from the last game and the boys are playing very hard. Three days ago we were playing at Jurong East and it was tough with the artificial pitch. But we gave a good performance against Hougang, so I’m very pleased.”
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “The red card changed the complexion of the game. In the first half we were totally dominating.”
“We knew that it was going to be difficult to come to here against a Balestier team that will sit back behind the ball.”
“Our next game is against the Warriors and we are on a good run. To play with ten men for almost the entire second half and to come with a point.
“I think at the end of the day for the ten players that continued in the game, we didn’t just sit back to get the point. We actually went for the three points as well. In the next game, we will set up to beat Warriors.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Tajeli Salamat, Aung Kyaw Naing, Raihan Rahman, Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit (Fariz Faizal 86’), Huzaifah Aziz, Sheik Abdul Hadi, Zulkhair Mustaffa (Jonathan Tan 58’), Ahmad Syahir, Hazzuwan Halim Hougang United:
Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Ali Hudzaifi, Delwinder Singh, Atsushi Shirota, Fareez Farhan (Iqbal Hussain 72’), Azhar Sairudin (C) (Pablo Rodriguez 68’), Fumiya Kogure, Nazrul Nazari, Fabian Kwok (Afiq Noor 76’), Syahiran Miswan, Faiz Salleh