Hougang United vs Balestier Khalsa: Can Cheetahs end five-year league jinx?

S.League | Hougang Stadium | Sat 19 Mar | 7.30pm  

Billed as

Hougang United’s chance to finally beat Balestier Khalsa at home in the league since 2011

The lowdown

Hougang United Form

  • Garena Young Lions 1-3 Hougang (S.League)
  • Hougang 0-0 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
  • Tampines Rovers 4-1 Hougang (S.League)
  • Hougang 1-0 Home United (S.League)
  • Hougang 0-2 Albirex Niigata (S) (Friendly)

Balestier Khalsa Form

  • Kaya FC 1-0 Balestier (AFC Cup)
  • Balestier 1-1 Warriors FC (S.League)
  • Balestier 1-0 Kitchee SC (AFC Cup)
  • Geylang International 0-0 Balestier (S.League)
  • Balestier 1-1 Albirex (S.League)

Things are slowly shaping up after five weeks into the 2016 S.League season. It is becoming clearer which teams will excel and which teams may sink.

For last season’s cellar-dwellers Hougang, it has been a generally positive start, bar a dismal 4-1 defeat to title favourites Tampines Rovers.

They have gotten some gritty results along the way, upsetting Home United 1-0 and holding Brunei DPMM to a goalless draw while easily dispatching Garena Young Lions 3-1.

Recording two wins and a draw in their first four matches, the Cheetahs are now fourth in the table – just a point off leaders Albirex Niigata (S).

With Geylang International inactive this week, they have the opportunity to surpass the Eagles and go into the top three with a win in their next game.

However, it will not come easy against a disciplined Balestier side that does not concede many goals.

The Tigers currently hold the joint-best defensive record along with Albirex, with just three goals conceded in four matches, although they also have the joint-worst attack along with Young Lions with just two goals scored.

Being one of the two teams that have yet to pick up a league win so far, the Toa Payoh-based club – now ranked third from bottom – will be relishing the chance to end that unwanted record.

However, tired legs may come in their way with this being their fifth game in 17 days due to league and AFC Cup commitments.

Hougang have not beaten them in the league at Hougang Stadium since 2011, and this represents their best chance of making it happen.

Team News

Hougang have a largely fit squad to call upon, except for left-back Ali Hudzaifi who is out for several months after sustaining an unfortunate anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury against Young Lions last week.

Centre-back Yusiskandar Yusop has recovered from his injury in time to face his old club, while former LionsXII winger Samuel Benjamin has also cleared the mandatory 2.4km fitness test.

Star signing Fumiya Kogure went through his first 90 minutes for the club unscathed the last time out, so do expect him to feature again in the no. 10 role behind Stipe Plazibat.

As for Balestier, they will be sweating on the fitness of midfield hard-man Shah Hirul, who limped off during the midweek AFC Cup defeat to Kaya.

Croatian front man Miroslav Kristic should be fit though, after being left on the bench throughout that game to nurse the knock which he got during last Friday’s 1-1 draw with Warriors FC.

Left back Ho Wai Loon is also now available for selection after clearing the 2.4km test.

Key Battle: Stipe Plazibat vs Emir Lotinac

Stipe Plazibat is in sizzling hot form at the moment.

If Balestier want to get anything out of this game, then Serbian centre-back Lotinac has to be on his very best to stop Hougang’s impressive front-man Plazibat.

The Croatian has adapted to life in Southeast Asia like how fish takes to water, scoring four goals in as many appearances to lead the S.League scoring chart alongside Albirex’s Atsushi Kawata and Jonathan Behe.

Cool as a cucumber in front of goal, the 26-year-old simply cannot be left unattended in the area.

The Coaches

Last Five Meetings

  • Hougang 1-1 Balestier (S.League, Nov '15)
  • Balestier 3-2 Hougang (S.League, Aug '15)
  • Balestier 3-2 Hougang (League Cup, Nov '15)
  • Hougang 0-1 Balestier (S.League, April '15)
  • Hougang 1-2 Balestier (Friendly, Feb '15)

Both coaches are strong advocates of hard work and discipline.

Hougang coach K Balagumaran favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, with M.Anumanthan and Raihan Rahman anchoring the midfield to allow the attackers more freedom.

Balestier counterpart Marko Kraljevic also deploys a similar set-up, with Shah Hirul and Fazli Ayob providing the grit in the middle of the park to allow the likes of Jamil Ali and Zulkiffli Hassim to wreak havoc.

It will be interesting to see who wins in this tactical battle.

Facts and Figures

  • Balestier have the edge on the overall head-to-heads, winning 16 times out of 32 encounters. Hougang won just eight times, while the other eight games ended up in draws.
  • Hougang failed to beat Balestier on five occasions in 2015 – losing 0-1, 3-2 and drawing 1-1 in the league, losing 3-2 in the League Cup while also being edged out 2-1 in a pre-season friendly.
  • Hougang’s last victory against Balestier came in the 2014 League Cup group stage where they ran out 3-0 winners away at Toa Payoh Stadium.
  • Hougang’s last victory against Balestier at Hougang Stadium came in the first leg of the 2013 Singapore Cup quarter-finals where they won 2-0.
  • You have to go all the way back to October 2011 for the last time Hougang beat Balestier at Hougang Stadium in the S.League - the Cheetahs won 2-0 in that game courtesy of goals from Noor Ali and Diego Gama.
  • Hougang forward and captain Jozef Kaplan has scored six times in total against Balestier while playing for previous clubs Geylang International and Tampines Rovers.

FourFourTwo prediction

A narrow 1-0 win for Hougang. Balestier will put up strong resistance, but it may not be enough against opponents with fresh legs.

Photos: S.League