Wasps stumble to stalemate with Cheetahs

Brunei DPMM’s slow start to the 2016 Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League season continued on Friday night as they stuttered to a 0-0 draw away to Hougang United. 

The defending champions picked up their first victory of the season last week against Warriors FC at home, but struggled to get going on a surface made slick by a pre-match drizzle at Hougang Stadium.

In fact, they looked fortunate to have escaped with a point after Wahyudi Wahid’s bullet header in injury time was ruled offside in what looked like a very close call.

Wasps head coach Steve Kean believed it was the right decision by the assistant referee, but his opposite number K. Balagumaran felt otherwise.

“My reserve players, who were in the stands, said it is onside,” he said. “Wahyudi came from behind the defence and it was a good run; for me, it’s a good goal. I need to check the video [to be sure] but anyway, the referee’s decision is final so we can’t argue about it.”

A defeat would have been harsh on the visitors, as both sides spurned the few decent openings that fell to them in an otherwise scrappy game.

In fact, the moment that got the crowd most excited was when Stipe Plazibat breezed past a DPMM player with a Marseille turn and then nutmegged another oncoming opponent as he showed off his skills.

The closest anyone came to breaking the deadlock was on 32 minutes when Jozef Kaplan carved out space to turn and shoot, but somehow smashed his attempt against the post from six yards.

The Slovakian, who scored 12 times in the league last year, has now failed to score in all three games for his new club this season, but Balagumaran insisted he was not worried.

“Every striker goes through this phase; once he gets his first goal, I think the goals will flow in,” he said.

Another new signing, Fumiya Kogure, nearly made an impact off the bench but could only drag his shot agonisingly wide from a tight angle with ten minutes left in regulation time.

The Japanese star also delivered the wicked free-kick that led to Wahyudi’s offside goal and Balagumaran rued his team’s failure to bounce back from last week’s 4-1 humbling by Tampines Rovers with victory.

“I was disappointed because we didn’t take our chances,” he lamented. “But credit goes to the boys as they played well and according to our game-plan.”

He pointed out that DPMM came to sit back and play on the break, although the Bruneian side did come close to scoring themselves.

Minutes after Kaplan had hit the woodwork, Maududi Hilmi latched on to Paulo Sergio’s superb pass and lashed his half-volley inches over the bar.

Then, Sergio had a go himself as half-time approached after Rafael Ramazotti found him with a clever cut-back, but Khairulhin Khalid pulled off a fine diving save to parry the shot away.

Unsurprisingly, Kean felt that his team were more worthy of three points.

“We are slightly disappointed with a point; I think we had enough chances to win the game,” he said.

The Scot also praised his back-line for coping well without key centre-back Brian McLean, singling out Yura Indera Putera in particular for praise.

He wasn’t as happy with some refereeing decisions though, after the likes of Sergio and Ramazotti were left frustrated on several occasions they felt should have been fouls as DPMM embarked on counter-attacks.

M. Anumanthan and Ali Hudzaifi could count their blessings they did not incur second bookings, although Kean admitted he could not blame the result on the refereeing.

“These import players bring quality to the S.League and they need a bit of protection,” he asserted. “When we are on the counter-attack and the ball goes to Sergio and he gets chopped, then its an automatic yellow card.

“But the overall result had nothing to do with the referee, we created enough to win the game.”

The result left DPMM in fourth place, two points behind leaders Albirex Niigata (S), while Hougang are two positions further down in sixth.