S.League | Hougang Stadium | Fri 4 Mar | 7.30pm
Hougang United Form
- Tampines Rovers 4-1 Hougang United
- Hougang United 1-0 Home United
- Hougang United 4-2 Garena Young Lions
- Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 Hougang United
- Geylang International 2-2 Hougang United
Brunei DPMM Form
- Brunei DPMM 3-1 Warriors FC
- Geylang International 1-1 Brunei DPMM
- Albirex Niigata (S) 3-2 Brunei DPMM
- Brunei DPMM 3-1 Global FC
- Home United 2-0 Brunei DPMM
The meeting between two sides who have something to prove.
No defending champion who lost their first game of the new season has ever gone on to win the S.League that year. Based on that, history is against Brunei DPMM - who went down 3-2 in the Community Shield to Albirex Niigata (S) last month - on retaining their crown.
The Bruneian side have taken a while to get going too, finally recording their first victory in their third game by sweeping aside Warriors FC 3-1 last time out at home. They will be keen to continue their upward trajectory with another three points on the bounce.
With leaders Albirex not playing this week, victory will also see the Wasps draw level with them on points.
Last season’s top scorer Rafael Ramazotti has already opened his account, while key attackers Azwan Ali and Paulo Sergio set up all the goals against Warriors (one and two assists respectively) so it is clear where their threat lies.
The damage was done in a 20-minute glut in which they conceded thrice, but the Cheetahs fought back well and would have made it a tighter contest had they taken their chances before conceding a killer fourth late on.
That spirit should give Hougang cause for optimism when they return to their home for this clash - the site of their gritty 1-0 opening win over giants Home United.
Hougang have a fully-fit squad to choose from and can count on an extra day of rest, while they will be boosted by the earlier-than-expected return of star playmaker Fumiya Kogure from injury. The Japanese may be thrown in for his first start here.
PAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Brunei DPMM 2-2 Hougang United
- Hougang United 2-3 Brunei DPMM
- Hougang United 1-0 Brunei DPMM
- Brunei DPMM 1-1 Hougang United
- Hougang United 1-2 Brunei DPMM
Similarly, DPMM should also have all their players available. Aminuddin Zakwan and Hendra Azam have not featured in the first three games at all, but have recovered from injury and have a chance to play their part here.
Key Battle: Nazrul Nazari vs Sairol Sahari
Hougang’s most impressive player against Tampines was easily right winger Nazrul Nazari, who had the title favourites’ left flank on the ropes for the first 45 minutes.
Despite playing much of last season at right-back with the LionsXII, the 25-year-old showed he has not forgotten the tricks of the trade farther up the pitch with an electrifying display of pace and skill.
Nazrul set up his side’s solitary goal with an intelligent through ball and will be a daunting prospect for DPMM left-back Sairol Sahari. The 32-year-old has bags of experience and will need every bit of it as he has no chance of matching Nazrul for speed.
Even if Nazrul starts at full-back, his overlapping runs will cause problems and if he comes out on top against Sairol, Hougang will fancy their chances of victory.
Hougang boss K. Balagumaran appears to have favour a disciplined and direct approach in his first full season in charge. Raihan Rahman and M. Anumanthan anchor the midfield and provide a solid base for Kogure and Stipe Plazibat to work from upfront - and every player tracks back dutifully in a hardworking unit.
His counterpart Steve Kean prefers to give his team license to pour forward and the style remains largely the same as last season. Sergio is the creator-in-chief with a roaming role behind targetman Ramazotti, while Azwan and Maududi Hilmi are the tricky speedsters down the flanks.
Facts and Figures
- New Hougang striker Plazibat has scored in both games so far (one goal each). He is the only player to net from a direct free-kick in the league this season.
- DPMM goalkeeper Wardun Yussof has saved each of the last three penalties he has faced in all competitions.
- Hougang have played DPMM at home seven times. Only on two occasions has the game ended with less than three goals in total.
- Hougang have scored against DPMM in each of their last six encounters.
This promises to be a real battle of contrasting styles. DPMM should have just enough firepower to take this. 2-0 to the visitors.