DPMM dispatch gritty Hougang to enter League Cup last four

Penalties in each half by Paulo Sergio and Rafael Ramazotti sank the spirited Cheetahs in Sunday's Group A clash, with the latter now having to focus on the Plate semi-finals.

Brunei DPMM started off well with Sergio firing a 20-yard free kick just over, but Hougang United responded well with Iqbal Hussain lashing out of range after being teed up by Fumiya Kogure.

The Cheetahs were slowly growing in confidence - with captain Jozef Kaplan firing straight at DPMM goalkeeper Wardun Yussof, while Wahyudi Wahid stabbed just wide after being found by an excellent Raihan Rahman cross.

However, they were to go into half-time a goal behind, with Sergio sending Hougang custodian Ridhuan Barudin the wrong way from the spot after debutant Faliq Sudhir was adjudged to have handled in the area.

Cheetahs coach K Balagumaran duly summoned Stipe Plazibat from the bench shortly after the break to change fortunes, but DPMM were largely on top with Ramazotti producing a stunning scissors kick from close range that flew just wide of mark.  

Iqbal then went close on 68 minutes with a sweetly-struck volley that just escaped the left-hand post.

Hougang were living life perilously on the edge, with Ridhuan pulling off a stunning reflex save to deny Ramazotti’s goalbound drive a minute later while the latter’s ‘goal’ shortly after was denied by the assistant referee’s offside flag.

Their chances of a comeback were boosted with 13 minutes left on the clock, with Sergio dismissed for allegedly stamping on Raihan in an off-the-ball challenge.

Time seemed to stand still on 87 minutes when Wahyudi found Iqbal free in the area, but the latter somehow failed to get the decisive touch just in front of goal.

Hougang were to pay the price for that miss as DPMM finished the job two minutes later.

After Fairoz Hasan got a straight red for illegally denying Shahrazen a goalscoring opportunity in the box, Ramazotti stepped up to convert underneath Ridhuan from 12 yards out for his ninth goal in seven games.

Balagumaran attributed the loss to his side’s inability to stay focused when decisions went their way.

“Last game we conceded two penalties and it happened again today,” he said. “Whatever decision, as a team we have to stay focused and not get distracted.

“We’re still lacking a bit on that part; we were arguing with the referee and all. If after DPMM’s sending off; we had stayed focused and took advantage of the numerical advantage, we could have equalised.”

Meanwhile, despite early qualification, DPMM counterpart Steve Kean bemoaned Sergio’s sending off – which he felt was unlucky.

“Sometimes when you get a downpour before the game, the pitch can be really slippery,” said the former Blackburn Rovers man. “The players were losing their footing. In such conditions, sometimes you end up getting contact with challenges that usually do not get.

“Paulo’s red card took the shine off a good night for us because he’s not that type of player to stick his studs into someone’s face or head. It’s frustrating to lose him for two matches.” 

Photo: S.League