Hougang United are still unbeatable at home in the 2016 S.League season after coming from behind to hold Tampines Rovers to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night.
Wahyudi Wahid was shown a straight red card for his involvement in the build-up, leaving the Cheetahs to play out the remainder of the match with just 10 men.
However, the plucky Cheetahs rescued a share of the spoils 20 minutes before the end with super-sub Iqbal Hussain scoring an excellent equaliser.
It was a dreadful first half-hour as both sides failed to create any clear-cut chances.
However, it was the visitors that broke the deadlock in the 40th minute with England-born hit-man Mehmet making no mistakes from the spot, after Wahyudi was dismissed for denying Hafiz Sujad a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Inspired by the words of K.Balagumaran, the Cheetahs returned for the second half with much more vigour as they went in search of the equaliser despite the numerical disadvantage.
“At half-time, I told the boys that they have to get up and fight,” revealed the Hougang coach. “I told them to run an extra five kilometres and work together as a team.
“Just before they walked onto the field, I told them that they’re the fittest bunch of guys in the S.League. Maybe that helped to fire them up.”
Nur Na’iim Ishak, playing in place of the injured Fumiya Kogure, first forced Izwan into a diving save before Delwinder Singh just failed to adjust his feet in time to convert Fairoz Hasan’s teasing ball in from the right.
Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid did well to keep his side in the game, rushing out of goal well to close down Fazrul Nawaz, who was through on goal, before sticking out a leg to deny Shahdan Sulaiman’s goalbound shot.
Tampines then threw on star man Jermaine Pennant for Fazrul after the hour mark, but the more impactful substitution came from the opposite dugout when Iqbal replaced the exhausted Na’iim.
The former Singapore Under-23 star took just four minutes to make his mark as he restored parity for Hougang in the 70th minute.
With Irwan Shah surrendering possession near his own penalty area, Iqbal was onto the loose ball in a flash – gliding away from marker Afiq Yunos before coolly finishing low past the onrushing Izwan to send the home fans into delirium.
Tampines could have retook the lead just seconds later when a slack back-pass from M.Anumanthan put Mehmet through on goal, but Khairulhin read the situation superbly to deny the latter from getting a shot away.
Hougang eventually hang on for the point, with Balagumaran pleased to see his substitution paying off.
“I had problems deciding who to take out because everyone was playing so well,” he shared.
“In the end, I took a gamble with Iqbal and he scored a brilliant individual goal. With all the pressure on him, he took his time and placed his shot underneath Izwan’s body.”
Meanwhile, Tampines counterpart V Sundramoorthy put the disappointing result down to fatigue.
“This certainly wasn’t our best game,” said the former LionsXII coach. “We were playing our eighth game since the start of April and you can see there were some tired bodies out there.
“We did not take our chances when we were 1-0 up, so we ended getting punished. The goal came not because Hougang created the opening, but because we were sloppy in defence.
“It’s a disappointing result, but these boys are seasoned campaigners. I’m sure they’ll bounce back for next week’s big game against Selangor (FA).”comments