S.League Club Preview: Hougang United
What Happened Last Season?
After two successive mid-table finishes, much more was expected from the Cheetahs in 2013. Chief among the reasons for such optimism were the useful acquisitions of Englishmen Tom Beattie and Liam Shotton as well as the arrival of promising coach Alex Weaver. However, it proved to be a disappointing year with constant upheavals in the coaching department. Weaver was removed from coaching duties after just one win in his first six games, while former assistant coach Johana Johari’s delightful few results did not last and he soon followed suit. Amin Nasir came in for the final three months of the season and somewhat stabilised the ship, but was unable to prevent the side from finishing third-from-bottom.
Home Ground: Hougang Stadium, Singapore
Nickname: The Cheetahs
Last Season: 10th
League Cup: Plate Semi-Finalists
Singapore Cup: Quarter-finalists
Things do not look good for the north-eastern club in this upcoming season. Anchorman Beattie’s departure to the Warriors leaves the midfield looking lightweight while Mamadou Diallo’s failure to secure a work permit meant they are missing their key creative force of the past few seasons. They have made decent pre-season acquisitions though, in the form of versatile locals Erwan Gunawan and Wahyudi Wahid, as well as Brazilians Diego Gama and Geison Moura.
Over the years, the Cheetahs have built up a reputation of being hard to beat. If one observes in finer detail their results from last season, they were rarely beaten by two goals or more. In the ever chopping-and-changing culture of S.League teams, it is good to see the core group of local players like captain Lau Meng Meng, Syaqir Sulaiman, Fadhil Salim and Azhar Sairudin staying put for the good of the club. Despite not being one of the traditional title challengers, the club’s fan base is one of the strongest in the league. The self-styled Hougang HOOLs create raucous atmospheres at matches with their English League terrace-styled chants and very rarely miss games.
The inconsistent form of the Cheetahs can be infuriating to the club’s faithful, as their topsy-turvy 2013 proved. After a good start to the season where they collected four points from two games, they failed to pick up a win in their next six. There were delightful results midway through where they picked up shock home victories against Home United and Brunei DPMM, but they soon followed up with defeats against Geylang International and Woodlands Wellington at the same ground.
Did You Know?
In their inaugural year (2011) under the tutelage of then-coach Aide Iskandar, the Cheetahs enjoyed a spectacular season with excellent finishes in both Cup competitions. Narrowly missing out on the League Cup after a heartbreaking loss via penalties to Albirex Niigata (Singapore) in the final, they were then denied a place in the Singapore Cup final after an extra-time loss to the same opponents.
The Boss - Amin Nasir
The former Singapore international was rewarded with the job after impressing as caretaker in the latter stages of last season. Despite not having prior experience of coaching at the S.League level, Amin did not look out of place as he earned admirers with his tactical know-how and ability to get the best of his players. Judging from the big wins against Geylang, Harimau Muda B and Home United under his short helm thus far, it does seem like he has a penchant for attacking football.
Players to Watch
- Diego Gama de Oliveira
The 30-year-old Brazilian had a short but successful spell with the Cheetahs back in 2011. Although his stint was an injury-ravaged one, the forward impressed with his technical ability and knack of being at the right place at the right time. With not much known about his whereabouts in the last two years, it will be intriguing to see if he is fit enough to cope with the rigours of the league and hit double figures for the club.
- Geison Moura
Adding to the samba flair at Hougang is this 26-year-old forward, who last played for Minnesota United in the North American Soccer League. He has impressed thus far in friendly matches, hitting a flurry of goals while showcasing his ability to run at defences. With the absence of Diallo, Geison looks likely to be the creative lynchpin of this side.
- Erwan Gunawan
Erwan's arrival at a club like Hougang can rightly be considered something of a transfer coup. The 26-year-old has experience of playing at the highest level and is famed for his ability to score the winner in important matches like the 2010 AFC Champions League against Henan Jianye and the 2012 RHB Singapore Cup final against Tampines Rovers.
Kenneth's 2014 S.League Prediction: 10th