With South Korean attacker Chang Jo-Yoon cleared to make his debut, Hougang United will be looking to reignite their disappointing Singapore Premier League (SPL) season when they host Warriors FC on Wednesday night at Hougang Stadium.
It had looked like Hougang was turning the corner after getting four points from two games (beating Balestier Khalsa 1-0 away and holding Brunei DPMM to a 1-1 draw at National Stadium) to kick off the Clement Teo era.
However it was back to square one for the Cheetahs thereafter with four straight defeats. Three losses by the odd goal (0-1 against Home United, 1-2 against Albirex Niigata FC (S) and 2-3 away against Brunei DPMM) were followed by a shock 3-0 drubbing by Young Lions in mid-July.
The sequence of results has left them seven points adrift at the bottom with just eight games left to play, but Teo believes alarm bells should not start ringing just yet.
“Honestly I can tell you I’m enjoying myself,” the Cheetahs Caretaker Head Coach told FOX Sports Asia. “You know what I’m enjoying the most? I see the players getting upset or crying after a defeat.
“It’s unfortunate that we could not sustain what we did against Balestier or DPMM, but the players have established confidence in what we (the technical team) want them to do and they executed it with the best of their abilities. They have pushed their bodies to the limits and what’s more can you ask from them?”
In a bid to resolve their goalscoring issues – having netted the least (12) amongst the nine SPL teams – Hougang have swooped to bring in a pair of strikers in the form of Fazrul Nawaz and Chang Jo-Yoon during the mid-season transfer window.
Loan signing Fazrul made his Cheetahs debut against Young Lions the last time out, while Chang is set to do the same against Warriors after attaining his work permit.
Teo is confident that the duo will give his side some much-needed firepower as they seek to avoid finishing bottom for the first time since 2015.
“It was a rush (to start Fazrul a day after his signing) of course. It was my instinct at that point of time to start him and I’m responsible for taking that risk,” he explained. “It wasn’t because Fazrul wasn’t fit, it was just that he and the rest naturally still lacked understanding.
“As for Chang, he’s someone who made an impact previously in Singapore. After a few years back in (the lower leagues of) Korea, he’s now more matured and will give us the experience that we’ve been lacking.”
The Warriors will not be easy fodder for them though – having won two straight games against Geylang International and Young Lions by identical 1-0 scorelines to consolidate their position at fifth.
Midfielder Ammirul Emmran believes the uniformed outfit have the impetus to charge towards their best-ever finish in four years. Mirko Grabovac’s men have not finished above fifth since winning their ninth league title in 2014.
“Two wins and two clean sheets in a row definitely shows the discipline which we have on the field and it’s a morale booster for the whole team to work even harder to get another win,” said the 23-year-old.
“We have just six more matches to go and we will take one game at a time. We want to take maximum points and catch up on points with Home United FC and Brunei DPMM FC to finish in the top three. It’ll surely be a close fight towards the final round of the season.”
TEAM NEWS: Hougang will miss Jordan Vestering as the young left-back serves the first of a two-game suspension for his expulsion against Young Lions.
As for the Warriors, forward Khairul Nizam will be an absentee as he serves the second of his two-game suspension for his red card against Geylang.
Midfielders Ho Wai Loon and Poh Yi Feng are also doubtful due to recent injuries, but forward Ignatius Ang has recovered from an ankle injury and could see some game time in this one.
Hougang United FC: DLLLL
Warriors FC: LLLWW
02/06/18 Warriors 2-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
15/04/18 Hougang 1-1 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
17/11/17 Warriors 1-1 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
04/08/17 Hougang 0-1 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
13/07/17 Hougang 2-2 Warriors – League Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Chang Jo-Yoon (Hougang United)
The 30-year-old attacker is back in Singapore after three-and-a-half seasons back in native Korea and he will be looking to replicate the impact that made him one of the most popular foreign players back then. It will be interesting to see how he fare against Kento Fukuda and company in his debut for the club.
Jonathan Behe (Warriors FC)
The 29-year-old French forward has never hid his ambitions of finishing as the league’s top scorer in his second spell with the club. Trailing Albirex’s Shuhei Hoshino by five goals in the race for the Golden Boot, he will be relishing the opportunity to notch a few against a Hougang defence – which kept just a single clean sheet in 16 outings.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “It’s tough with five games in 18 days after a long (two-and-a-half weeks) break without competitive games. It’s a totally different ball game in terms of trainings and playing games on a regular basis.
“We’re very encouraged with what Fazrul has done since coming in. He treated here as his home and took the responsibility to guide the younger players on his own accord – getting them to practice on stuff together even after training sessions. He’s someone who the juniors look up to and he’s been very motivating.”
Warriors midfielder Ammirul Emmran: “We know how Hougang can be a big threat to us. They can counter us if we make mistakes. So, we definitely have to be focus & concentrate from the first whistle until the end. We can’t make mistakes at the back and have to take our chances properly.
“On a personal basis, I still have a lot of room for improvement since this is my first season at Warriors. I feel like I need to contribute more to the team although I’ve been playing most of the matches. I want to keep improving and learn as much from the senior players at the same time.”