Last season’s wooden-spooners Hougang United opened their campaign with a surprise 1-0 win over expected title contenders Home United on Thursday night.
A first-half free-kick from new Croatian recruit Stipe Plazibat proved to be the difference in front of 2,307 fans at Hougang Stadium as Home continued their winless start to the 2016 S.League season.
They played according to the game plan and credit goes to everyone in the team
The Protectors made some changes from the 2-2 draw against Warriors FC last Sunday, with the prodigious Irfan Fandi chosen to lead the line, while former LionsXII winger Faris Ramli recovered from his knee injury to make his Home debut.
Faris wasted little time making an impression as he rifled a superb ball across the box on 10 minutes, but Irfan fired over when it seemed easier to put it on target.
Without the creativity of star signing and last season’s S.League Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure, Hougang struggled for the cutting edge in the attacking third, with their only shot on target in the first 30 minutes an ambitious 30-yard effort from Raihan Rahman.
Home should have gone ahead a minute before the half-hour mark when Irfan went through on goal via Azhar Sairudin’s through ball, but Hougang left back Ali Hudzaifi produced a superb recovery tackle to save the day.
Buoyed by the let-off, the Cheetahs pushed forward and duly broke the deadlock in the 34th minute.
Having forced Song Uiyong to concede a free kick just outside the area, Plazibat (pictured above in a file photo) took charge of the dead ball himself and delivered a masterpiece that sailed past a flat-footed Hyrulnizam Juma’at in the Home goal.
The visitors threatened to level matters towards the end of the first half, but Ken Ilso’s goalbound flick was blocked by Plazibat while Zulfahmi Arifin’s swerving freekick stung the palms of Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid.
Aqhari Abdullah then came on for the ineffective Azhar at half-time as Home coach Philippe Aw decided to introduce more energy in attack.
The substitute quickly got into the thick of things by setting up Song inside the box, but the South Korean midfielder somehow lashed high into the stadium’s floodlights.
With things still not going his way, Aw threw on Khairul Nizam and Ikhsan Fandi for Irfan and Faris respectively in the last 20 minutes.
Even centre back Abdil Qaiyyim was deployed as a striker late on, but there was no getting past the stout Hougang backline led by Delwinder Singh.
The resilient Hougang side managed to hold on for the three points, with coach K Balagumaran understandably delighted with the result as he singled out the team’s fighting spirit.
“Usually the first game is not easy, but the spirit of the boys before they took to the field was high,” he said. “I told them not to think about getting the result, instead just go out there to do your best individually for yourself and the team.
“They played according to the game plan and fought for every ball. So credit goes to everyone in the team.”
Hougang will face another stern test of their credentials when they go away to Jurong West to take on title favourites Tampines Rovers next Friday.
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo. Video courtesy of the S.Leaguecomments