Garena Young Lions vs Hougang United: Cheetahs out to reignite top-three hopes
Whipping boys vs AFC Cup chasers.
Garena Young Lions Form
- Warriors FC 5-2 Young Lions (S.League)
- Young Lions 0-2 Geylang International (S.League)
- Albirex Niigata (S) 4-0 Young Lions (S.League)
- Young Lions 1-3 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
- Young Lions 1-1 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
Hougang United Form
- Hougang 1-2 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
- Tampines Rovers 1-2 Hougang (S.League)
- Hougang 4-2 Home United (S.League)
- Hougang 1-2 Geylang International (League Cup Plate Final)
- Hougang 2-1 Balestier Khalsa (League Cup Plate SF)
With Balestier Khalsa losing to Albirex Niigata (S) in the Singapore Cup semi-finals, the equation has become clearer for local teams vying for qualification to next year's AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup.
Tampines Rovers should be able to book their passage through either as the Singapore Cup winners or the S.League's top-ranked local team. That frees the other qualifying spot for the second highest-ranked local team, with three clubs Home United, Geylang International and Hougang United in the mix.
The trio are also battling with Brunei DPMM to finish in the top three, with the dangle of prize money so much is at stake for these final few weeks of the season.
Hougang have learnt the hard way that there is no margin for error at this level, after a damaging 2-1 defeat to DPMM a month ago. A win in that game could have put them two points ahead of the latter with a game in hand.
The Cheetahs had led 1-0 at half time, only to be undone by a minute of madness in the second half where they conceded two goals. The result meant they dropped all the way to sixth, four points adrift of DPMM.
At this moment, they will perhaps relish taking on a struggling Garena Young Lions side that has just two wins all season.
The local developmental outfit is yet to collect a point since a 1-1 draw with DPMM in mid-June and their last win came in May, when they beat Warriors FC 3-1.
There have been encouraging moments for Patrick Hesse's side, but a general lack of concentration in games have let the Young Lions down.
The last time out against Warriors, they conceded three in eight minutes and were already 3-0 down by the first half-hour. They fought back well in the second half, but still fell to a heavy 5-2 defeat in the end.
Barring a miraculous response in their final four games, they are set to finish bottom of the pile.
The Young Lions should have a healthy squad to call upon, apart from the likes of Zakir Samsudin, Ammirul Emmran and Hazim Faiz who are away on National Service.
The big news is that top scorer Fareez Farhan will available again after missing the last three games due to a hamstring injury.
They will also welcome back a host of players like Zharfan Rohaizad, Gareth Low, Rusyaidi Salime and Zulfadhmi Suzliman, who were away on international duty with the Singapore Under-19s.
It is not so positive in the Hougang camp though, with several important absentees.
With Ali Hudzaifi, Wahyudi Wahid and Delwinder Singh already on the long-term injury list, Yusiskandar Yusop is also a doubt after injuring his hamstring in their training trip to Malaysia last week.
Left-back Huzaifah Aziz has a medical issue while Raihan Rahman, who played as a centre-back for the past few matches, is suspended.
Thus we could well see a makeshift defence turn out for Hougang, with M. Anumanthan possibly pushed back from midfield.
Key Battle: Amirul Adli vs Iqbal Hussain
Supported by the attacking talents of Fumiya Kogure, Jozef Kaplan and Stipe Plazibat, Iqbal has been flourishing upfront for Hougang with two goals and two assists in his last five matches.
The 23-year-old will be out to show national team coach V Sundramoorthy that he is worthy of a spot in the year-end Suzuki Cup, so it will interesting to see how the Young Lions backline, led by Amirul, cope with his all-round threat.
Over the course of the season, Young Lions tactician Patrick Hesse has lamented his side's inability to keep their focus. So do expect the home side to stay compact at least in the early stages of the game.
Hougang counterpart K Balagumaran may be facing a defensive crisis right now, but that will not stop the former LionsXII assistant from adopting an attacking approach as they continue their chase for third spot.
Last Five Meetings
- Hougang 1-1 Young Lions (S.League, Aug ’16)
- Young Lions 1-3 Hougang (S.League, Mar '15)
- Hougang 2-2 Young Lions (S.League, Oct '15)
- Young Lions 1-3 Hougang (S.League, Jul '15)
- Hougang 1-1 Young Lions (S.League, Mar '15)
Facts and Figures
- Hougang have beaten Young Lions just twice in their last nine competitive encounters.
- Young Lions have conceded the most goals in the opening 10 minutes of each half - six from 1' to 10' and eight from 46' to 55'.
- Along with Albirex, Hougang have scored the joint-most number of late goals (from 81' to 90' including injury time) - 12.
A tight affair expected, but Hougang should have enough quality to prevail. The Cheetahs to nick it 2-1.