Hougang thump four past Warriors in resounding League Cup win
The final Group A clash at Hougang Stadium was essentially a dead rubber as Brunei DPMM and Tampines Rovers had already secured qualification, leaving both teams with nothing much more than pride to salvage.
It was the hosts who started with more desire and head coach K. Balagumaran was happy with their response to their previous results.
“I am pleased,” he said. “We already lost two games within the last one week so credit to the boys, they rose to the occasion and this is a morale booster for them.”
Star playmaker Fumiya Kogure drove them on in the first half, testing goalkeeper Basil Chan twice from free-kicks and also hitting the post with a deflected shot.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese star created the opening goal on 42 minutes. Iqbal Hussain, who had forced Chan to tip over an acrobatic effort from an earlier Kogure corner, did not waste his second bite at the cherry as he glanced in the resulting delivery.
With 55 seconds left, the match was then halted for almost 70 minutes as the lightning warning system was activated.
The pitch was left in a cut-up state by the time play resumed and that affected both teams, though the Warriors showed signs of revival.
Hafsyar Farkhan’s low cross narrowly evaded Andy Ahmad’s boot with the goal gaping, while Ridhuan Barudin did very well to prevent Ismail Yunos’s overhit pass from creeping in.
Hafiz Rahim, deployed in a makeshift striker role, then scissor-kicked Ismail’s centre over the bar as Hougang struggled to find momentum.
But the Warriors’ eagerness to find the equaliser resulted in them getting hit on the counter-attack in the 73rd minute as Kogure doubled their advantage.
The midfielder started the move with a diagonal out right to Iqbal, who set up Khairulnizam Jumahat for the perfect cross. Kogure was on the end of it, making a trademark late run to easily tap home from two yards.
The visitors did manage to score their first goal of this tournament two minutes later as Hafiz expertly steered Shaiful Esah’s cross beyond Ridhuan, but that respite was brief.
Hougang captain Jozef Kaplan wrapped up victory with a wonderful individual effort on 88 minutes that saw him beat two men, before putting the icing on the cake by tapping in Huzaifah Aziz’s pass in injury time.
Balagumaran was also satisfied that fringe players like Huzaifah, Nur Na’iim Ishak and Khairulnizam proved their worth in this tournament.
“We now know they are capable of coming into the starting line-up if someone is injured or suspended,” he said.
Defeated coach Razif Onn lamented their inability to finish when chances came their way at just one goal down and admitted the uniformed giants’ thoughts have already turned to the S.League.
“Wer are looking forward to our S.League campaign,” he said, noting that they were missing Jonathan Behe and Nikola Rak. “With our full squad back, I hope we can do much better.”