Match Previews

Hougang United vs Balestier Khalsa: Cheetahs gunning for maiden silverware


League Cup | Jalan Besar Stadium | Mon 25 Jul| 7.30pm 

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Billed as

Hougang United’s opportunity to go one step closer to realising their silverware dreams.

The lowdown

Hougang United Form

  • Hougang 4-1 Warriors FC (League Cup)
  • Hougang 0-2 Brunei DPMM (League Cup)
  • Tampines Rovers 6-4 Hougang (League Cup)
  • Hougang 1-3 Warriors FC (S.League)
  • Geylang Int’l 1-2 Hougang (S.League)

Brunei DPMM Form

  • Balestier 2-2 Home United (League Cup)
  • Albirex Niigata 2-0 Balestier (League Cup)
  • Balestier 2-2 Geylang Int’l (League Cup)
  • Home United 2-2 Balestier (Singapore Cup)
  • Balestier 2-1 Home United (Singapore Cup)

Never in their six-year history as the Cheetahs, or in their previous incarnations as Sengkang Punggol, Paya Lebar Punggol, Sengkang Marine or even Marine Castle United, have Hougang United managed to lift a single piece of silverware.

That could be about to change this year though, with the League Cup bringing back the Plate competition which grants teams that crash out of the group stages slight reprieve.

The Cheetahs lost the chance to qualify for the Cup semi-finals after opening losses to Tampines Rovers and Brunei DPMM, but bounced back in emphatic fashion by thumping Warriors FC 4-1 the last time out.

Interestingly, they are the joint-second highest scoring team in this League Cup so far with eight goals (same as Brunei DPMM) – two behind Tampines Rovers. That should give them some confidence going into this tricky Plate semi-final clash against Balestier Khalsa.

The Tigers were cruelly denied a spot in the Cup semi-finals, after defender Hanafi Salleh had put the ball through his own goal five minutes from time to draw 2-2 against Home United in a must-win clash.

Nonetheless, the Toa Payoh-based outfit has a knack of excelling in cup competitions – winning the League Cup Plate in 2012, the League Cup in 2013, the Singapore Cup in 2014 while finishing runners-up in last season’s League Cup.

So Hougang will do well not to underestimate their opponents despite going into this game as the slight favourites.

Team News

Hougang will be missing a few key players, with left back Faiz Salleh and top scorer Stipe Plazibat ruled out through elbow and calf injuries respectively, while centre back Wahyudi Wahid and Fairoz Hasan will be serving out a one-match suspension.

Yusiskandar Yusop is likely to deputise for Wahyudi against his former club.

On the other hand, Balestier have their own problems – with wide man Ahmad Syahir suspended, while defensive hard man Emir Lotinac is still recovering from injury.

Key Battle: Jozef Kaplan vs Naqiuddin Nodin

Kaplan has been in a rich vein of form in the League Cup

Kaplan have been struggling to capture his form of yesteryear in the league with just three goals in 16 appearances, but it is a different story altogether in the League Cup.

Braces against Tampines and Warriors meant that the Slovakian is currently the tournament’s top scorer with four goals (one more than DPMM’s Rafael Ramazotti and Tampines’ Billy Mehmet) and he will surely be eyeing the chance to claim the Golden Boot.

Out to stop the former’s quest will be Balestier stand-in goalkeeper Naqiuddin Nodin, who has been rather impressive since taking over from the absent Zaiful Nizam.

The unheralded 21-year-old is not afraid of coming out to claim crosses or diving bravely at opponents’ feet to deny goalscoring opportunities.

The Coaches

Hougang coach K Balagumaran is likely to continue fielding fringe players in this game, with the likes of Faliq Sudhir, Nur Na’iim Ishak and Iqbal Hussain all getting opportunities to be in the spotlight.

Balestier counterpart Marko Kraljevic might well take a different approach by fielding the Croatian strike duo of Miroslav Kristic and Niko Tokic to penetrate the weakened Hougang defence.

Last Five Meetings

  • Balestier 2-2 Hougang (S.League, Jun ’16)
  • Hougang 1-0 Balestier (S.League, Mar ’16)
  • Hougang 1-1 Balestier (S.League, Nov ‘15)
  • Balestier 3-2 Hougang (S.League, Aug ’15)
  • Balestier 3-2 Hougang (League Cup, Jul ’15)

Facts and Figures

  • Balestier has upper hand based on head-to-head records. In 14 official match-ups, they won 16 while Hougang triumphed only nine times. The other nine matches ended in draws.
  • Balestier have yet to beat Hougang this season, losing 1-0 away and drawing 2-2 at home.
  • Both sides had met in the semi-finals of the League Cup last season, with Ignatius Ang scoring a late lob to win it 3-2 for Balestier.
  • Balestier’s Tokic has six goals and five assists since arriving in the mid-season transfer window.

FourFourTwo prediction

A really tough one to call, but we’re tipping Hougang to nick it 2-1 with a late winner.