Hougang United’s bid for their first home win of the season was denied by a dramatic late comeback from Balestier Khalsa as The Tigers claimed a 2-1 win away at Hougang Stadium in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) on Wednesday night.
Hougang looked set to deliver their first home win in 11 months after Antoine Viterale’s first-half strike, but Balestier scored two goals in a minute late into the game through Zakir Samsudin and Hazzuwan Halim to wrestle away all three points.
Determined to give the Hougang HOOLS (the unofficial Hougang supporters’ club) something to cheer about after a long winless run at home, the Cheetahs started with all guns blazing and it was no surprise when they opened the scoring on 26 minutes.
After heading wide from six yards out nine minutes earlier, Viterale made amends with a superb stooping header off Captain Faiz Salleh’s deep cross into the area that flew past Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam in a flash.
That was the French-Italian forward’s first-ever SPL goal, breaking a 23-game goal drought in all competitions as Hougang led for just the second time at home this season.
Hougang brought the slender advantage into the second half and continued to dominate proceedings, with Iqbal Hussain and Viterale both seeing their efforts denied by Zaiful.
Balestier rode their luck and grabbed a shock equaliser against the run of play in controversial circumstances on 74 minutes.
Nurullah Hussein’s foul on Hougang’s South Korean forward Chang Jo Yoon in the build-up went unpunished by referee Juherman Zaiton.
Balestier played on, with Zakir taking full advantage to wallop a hopeful and speculative shot from just outside the box that evaded Hougang custodian Zulfairuuz Rudy before crashing in off the post.
With the HOOLS still trying to come to terms with the surprise equaliser, the Cheetahs suffered yet another setback a minute later as Balestier went 2-1 up.
In an attempt to clear the danger from a long ball, Zulfairuuz – who was carrying an injury from the first half – totally missed contact with the leather as Hazzuwan seized the opportunity to guide home into a gaping goal for his fourth goal of the season.
Hougang then introduced experienced forward Fazrul Nawaz to replace Syahiran Miswan, as they threw the proverbial kitchen sink in the dying stages to no avail.
Substitute Fabian Kwok could not keep his volley down after a half-cleared corner on 87 minutes, before Fareez Farhan somehow lashed over from eight yards out a minute later.
Kwok had the final chance to steal a point seven minutes into injury time, but his header from Fareez’s inswinging corner flew off-target.
That paved the way for some unsavoury scenes at full time between both sets of players, but the customary post-match handshakes still went on as Hougang were left to reflect a missed opportunity for their first home win of 2018.
The Cheetahs remained eight points adrift at the bottom and will now go away to face Brunei DPMM FC at Bandar Seri Begawan on Saturday night, while Balestier host Warriors FC the following evening.
What they said:
Hougang United FC Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “It’s not a good thing to say that the officials cost us the game, but it’s a fact and I can’t deny it. I understand the referees need games, but you can’t put all three inexperienced officials (excluding the fourth official) in one game. You can juggle and maybe put at least one experienced official in. We were leading 1-0 and because of something that the referee did not see or did not give, it cost us the game.
“How can my player (Chang) be falling forward if no one is pushing him? His (Nurullah’s) hands and legs were all over him. If I’m a player on the pitch, I will be demoralised when these things happen. I’ve been supporting the refs… Without them, there is no SPL. But they need to make correct decisions. I hope the referees’ department do something about it.
“Every point counts for us and that’s frustrating for us. My players are taking this defeat badly, so am I. At the end of the day, I can say a lot of things but nothing changes. Life goes on. Characters are built when the team is down.”
Balestier Khalsa FC Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “Winning without playing well… It’s beautiful! Hougang’s standing (in the table) does not show on the pitch – they have very good players and it’s not easy to play against them. In the first half, we never used the space behind them, we were moving the ball very slowly and predictably… we were second best to everything.
“But second half, we changed our tactics and the boys showed character to win the game. These players work extra hard in training so sometimes luck just happens on the pitch for us.”
Hougang United FC: Zulfairuuz Rudy (GK) (Ridhuan Barudin 77’), Muhaimin Suhaimi, Illyas Lee, Ashrul Syafeeq (Fabian Kwok 59’), Faiz Salleh (C), Syahiran Miswan (Fazrul Nawaz 82’), Antoine Viterale, Iqbal Hussain, Justin Hui, Fareez Farhan, Chang Jo Yoon
Balestier Khalsa FC: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Nurullah Hussein, Sufianto Salleh, Fariz Faizal (Khalili Khalif 73’), Nurisham Jupri, Vrebac Sanjin, Noor Akid Nordin (Zakir Samsudin 46’), Hazzuwan Halim (Sheikh Abdul Hadi 90’), Keegan Linderboom