Out-of-sorts Hougang lose again
Pre-season dark horses Hougang United have collected just six points from a possible 18 after a 2-0 defeat to champions Albirex Niigata (S) at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
The Cheetahs put up a good defensive shift in the first half, but things unravelled after the break with Tsubasa Sano hitting a double to condemn them to their fourth defeat of the season – they lost 10 league games in 2016 under K Balagumaran.
When things are not going well, we need a joker upfront to change things
More worryingly, they have not scored in 297 official minutes with their last goal coming through a Fumiya Kogure free-kick in the 2-0 win over Garena Young Lions in early March.
Spanish forward Pablo Rodriguez is also still waiting for his first competitive goal in Hougang colours, leaving coach Philippe Aw understandably concerned about how things are shaping up.
“We are struggling to create chances now,” said the 39-year-old at the post-match press conference. “We’re missing Iqbal (Hussain) and Fareez (Farhan) in attack (due to National Service and injury respectively), that’s affecting us. Both guys have speed and ability to shoot. When things are not going well, we need a joker upfront to change things.
“Pablo’s struggling to adapt to how we want to play our football. In training, we’re coaching him to make certain runs and link-up plays. We certainly expect so much more from him as a foreign signing. We’ll continue to coach him and hopefully he fits in soon.”
It was a tentative game in the first half, with the first real chance after all of 38 minutes with Albirex captain Shuto Inaba’s excellent half-volley turned around the post by Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid.
The White Swans finally broke Hougang’s resistance 11 minutes after half-time, with hot shot Sano getting the faintest of touches to guide home Inaba’s right-wing cross.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s side continued to dominate the game, but were denied more goals by the on-form Khairulhin.
It paved the way for a possible Hougang comeback, but the Cheetahs were blunt upfront and barely tested Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.
The White Swans managed to seal the game a minute from time, hitting Hougang on the break with Sano needing just one touch to tap home Hiroyoshi Kamata’s cut-back.
The result meant the champions leapfrogged Home United to go top of the S.League as they continued their unbeaten start to the season with four wins and one draw. Despite that, Yoshinaga still wants to see from his charges.
“Today the first half was difficult,” said the 49-year-old. “We made some adjustments in the second half in terms of positions, so we were able to penetrate and score two.
“The players can still play better. They’re trying very hard, but they have not really reached the level which they’re capable of. I’m looking for better individual performances. We’ll try to improve day by day and match by match.”
Meanwhile Hougang counterpart Aw is remaining positive despite suffering three straight defeats after the international break.
“To get zero out of nine points is disappointing,” said the 39-year-old. “We could have gotten two draws or a win from it.
“There was a lot of hype on Hougang in pre-season because we’re changing things off the pitch and making good signings on it. I’ve said this before that to make a team solid (in a short time) is not easy and we will need to continue to find out solutions to do better.”