FFT's S.League Preview: Hougang United

After a tumultous 2015 season, Hougang United have reinforced heavily. But is revival and a title tilt really on the cards for coach K Balagumaran and his new cohort of ex-LionsXII players?

TEAM PROFILE 

Hougang 2016 S.LEAGUE SQUAD

Goalkeepers

  • Ridhuan Barudin
  • Fawwaz Anuar
  • Khairulhin Khalid

Defenders

  • Yusiskandar Yusop
  • Ali Hudzaifi
  • Delwinder Singh
  • Huzaifah Aziz
  • Faiz Salleh
  • Khairulnizam Jumahat
  • Wahyudi Wahid

Midfielders

  • Fairoz Hasan
  • Anumanthan Kumar
  • Fumiya Kogure
  • Nur Na’iim
  • Nazrul Nazari
  • Ridho Jafri
  • Raihan Rahman
  • Nurhilmi Jasni
  • Afiq Mat Noor
  • Samuel Benjamin

Forwards

  • Jozef Kaplan
  • Stipe Plazibat
  • Iqbal Hussain

The year 2015 was one to forget for Hougang United.

Much had been expected after Hougang’s merger with Woodlands Wellington at the end of 2014.

While the club did make waves off the field, erasing all its debts to turn a $2 million profit, financial success did not translate into success on the pitch.

Despite refreshing its foreign roster mid-season with Diego Gama, Carlos Delgado, Atsuchi Shimono and Serbian Vuk Sotirovic coming in for the disappointing Renshi Yamaguchi, Manato Takahashi  ‘Chupe’ Francisco Salvador Ela and the injured Shunsuke Nakatake, the Cheetahs still ended the season bottom of the table.

Coach Salim Moin was let go with three games remaining and K Balagumaran, who assisted V Sundramoorthy when he coached LionsXII to the Malaysia Super League title in 2013 and at Negri Sembilan in 2014, stepped into the fold.

Having ended the campaign with two defeats and a draw, Balagumaran will be looking forward to the start of the new season to get his first win as coach of Hougang. That should come sooner rather than later.

Chairman Bill Ng has given the coach the freedom and financial support to go out and get the players he wants and the coach has recruited well.

In two eye-catching deals, he swooped for 2015’s player of the year, former Albirex Niigata (S) playmaker Fumiya Kogure and striker Jozef Kaplan, captain of Geylang International last year.

Another massive coup was the signing of highly-rated youngster M Anumathan from the Young Lions.

‘Anu’, who can play in both defence and midfield and has already been capped six times for the national team, told FourFourTwo that he received offers from six other clubs, but chose to sign for Hougang because he was convinced by the club’s vision.

Speedy centre-back Wahyudi Wahid has returned to the Cheetahs after two seasons with the LionsXII and Hougang have also signed a host of his former teammates – midfield hard-man Raihan Rahman, effervescent wing-back Nazrul Nazari, wide-man Samuel Benjamin and goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid.

Another exciting signing is Iqbal Hussain from the Young Lions. The skilful attacker will have much to prove after he was controversially dropped from the 2015 SEA Games squad by coach Aide Iskandar.

If all goes to plan, Kogure’s presence in the team should provide the creativity that was sorely missing last season.

The late signing of Croatian attacker Stipe Plazibat, who has spent the last two years playing for FC Gifu and V-Varen Nagasaki in the Japanese Second Division, to complement Kaplan upfront means the fervent but long suffering Hougang fans should have plenty of goals to cheer.

Plazibat was voted FC Gifu’s most valuable player in 2013 and has already impressed in pre-season for Hougang, with two goals in three games, while Kaplan has scored 48 goals in three seasons in the S.League. In the centre of the park, Balagumaran can count on Raihan Rahman and ‘Anu’ to break up the opposition’s moves.

A strong spine now runs through the Hougang team. If Balagumaran manages to integrate them well, and his key men manage to stay healthy, Hougang could be a dark-horse in the race for the 2016 S.League title.

FFT'S S.LEAGUE PREDICTION: 7th

Hougang boast many fresh young players, but some defensive issues may affect their chances of a good finish.

KEEP CLICKING BELOW FOR OUR COMPREHENSIVE HOUGANG PREVIEW

COACH CORNER – K Balagumaran

The coach is a protege of V Sundramoorthy and is looking forward to facing off against his former boss. Click here to find out more about the coach's targets for the new season.

STAR MAN – Jozef Kaplan

Hougang's Slovakian forward has cemented his reputation as a reliable frontman, but is focused more on helping his club to a higher position in the table this season.

For more about one of Hougang's key men, click here.

VIEW FROM THE FANS

He believes Hougang are not yet ready to challenge the S.League's heavyweights, but relishes the prospects of the team becoming real wildcards this season. Read about hardcore fan Ernest Lim's hopes here.

YOUNG GUN – M Anumanthan 

The former Young Lions midfielder enjoyed a breakthrough 2015 and is eyeing further growth as a player this term.

Find out more about his targets for this season right here.

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