Hougang United are bent on putting an unlucky 1-0 first-leg defeat behind them as they look to navigate a tough game against holders Albirex Niigata FC (S) at Jurong East Stadium on Saturday evening in the second leg of their RHB Singapore Cup quarterfinal tie.
They huffed and puffed, but just simply could not bring the Albirex roof down as they fell to a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the quarterfinal tie at Hougang Stadium on Wednesday night.
Hougang put up one of their brightest displays of the season that belied their standings in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), as the bottom-placed SPL side matched the all-conquering White Swans stride for stride until a contentious free-kick decision that led to Kenya Takahashi firing home the match-winner.
The manner of the defeat left the Cheetahs frustrated, but they have to regroup fast with just two days to prepare for Saturday’s second leg at Jurong East.
There is also the small matter of Albirex’s daunting home record to deal with – the Cup holders are on an incredible 37-game winning streak in all competitions at their artificial turf since their last defeat there in November 2015.
However having similarly pushed the White Swans close in the league with 1-0 and 2-1 defeats, Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo is adamant that his side can beat the odds in this massive second leg.
“Naturally we’re the underdogs, but we’re going to go in with the same mentality and continue to strive for a good result,” he told FOX Sports Asia. “The ball is round and anything is possible. I believe in my boys that we can do it.
“Let’s go down fighting even if it goes into 120 minutes or penalties. I’m really proud of how they played in the first leg… Even those who are on the bench and not playing – they were all standing up and anticipating when we had a chance to score. This is a true team and how a team should react.”
The beleaguered Cheetahs can perhaps take heart from being the last team to defeat Albirex back in July 2017.
Should they achieve their first win at Jurong East since 2014 and overturn the tie to reach the semis, it will go down as one of the most shocking results in Singapore football history.
TEAM NEWS: As per last game, Albirex have an almost full-strength squad to call upon – barring centre-back Kaishu Yamazaki who is out for the long-term due to a knee injury.
On the other hand, Hougang’s situation have improved with converted defender Fabian Kwok returning from suspension while wide man Nazrul Nazari made a successful comeback from injury by coming off the bench in the first leg.
The negative is that crocked centre back Ashrul Syafeeq remains out for another few weeks though.
Hougang United FC: WLLLL
Albirex Niigata FC (S): DWDWW
29/08/18 Hougang 0-1 Albirex – Singapore Cup
04/07/18 Hougang 1-2 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
06/05/18 Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
19/10/17 Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
07/07/17 Hougang 0-0 Albirex – League Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Adam Swandi (Albrex Niigata FC (S))
Set to fly off the morning after the game for a trial with Albirex Japan from September 2 to 10, Adam will be keen to make an impression in what could be one of his last games for the White Swans. The 22-year-old was frustrated by Hougang makeshift right-back Muhaimin Suhaimi the last time round and it will be interesting to see who wins the duel this time round.
Nazrul Nazari (Hougang United FC)
Despite a campaign plagued by inconsistent form and injuries, Nazrul has been selected for Fandi Ahmad’s 26-man Singapore squad for the upcoming friendlies against Mauritius and Fiji. The 27-year-old will be keen to showcase his credentials as he comes up against old nemesis Takahashi.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “For the first leg, we did not play well at the start. But from the middle of the first half, the players slowly realised what are the spaces that they should attack and what positions should they get into. It’s a sign that they can adjust during games.
“We’re an offensive team that focuses a lot on attacks so I wasn’t too worried when Kaishu got injured in July. (His replacement) Shun Kumagai has put in good performances and helped to contribute to the team.”
Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “I fully agree that the first-leg performance was good, but the bottom line is still results. We can say we played well, we did this, we did that but what’s the outcome? That’s the most important thing.
“I’m really grateful that we have a loyal group of fans in the HOOLs (Hougang’s unofficial supporters’ club). They’re singing, cheering and here for us in every game even if we lose. When we were down in a game, they were still cheering ‘come on, come on’. We, the players and coaching staff, really feel for them and we really take our hats off to them. That’s something which I don’t think any other SPL club has and we really want to do something for them.”