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Groundhog Day : Tampines Rovers 2 - 4 Hougang United

This definitely has not been a contest for the faint of heart as we played host to the Cheetahs of Hougang United. 35 goals in the last 5 league games tell a tale of thrills, spills and everything in between.


We unfortunately fell short against the same opponents just 2 weeks ago at Hougang Stadium and we were looking to put things right, back home in front of The Stand.

Squad selection for today’s game, as alluded to by Head Coach Gavin before the game began, was unfortunately afflicted with Covid-19 and reservist issues. It also certainly didn’t help that our Serbian talisman Zeko had a knock last game.

We nonetheless were looking to throw all we could at Hougang. Included on our bench were the talented trio of Taras Goh, Ali Manaf and Iman Hakim, whose combined age of 54, show the rest of the Young Bucks in the club that there are opportunities to be had on the SPL stage.

First Half


As the first whistle went, the Hougang press commenced. Kyoga Nakamura would feel the brunt of it in the very first minute with a foul on him by Pedro Bortoluzo. Much like in the last fixture, Hougang would press and challenge the likes of Kyoga and captain Yasir Hanapi to use their decisive passing and jinking runs to break through the press.

The first decisive pass would, however, come from Amirul Haikal, whose ball over the top was misjudged by Lionel Tan for Boris Kopitovic to run through on goal. Unfortunately he could not find the target as he lobbed the ball over the bar. First warning shot fired.

The first chance for Hougang United would fall to them in the 3rd minute. Sahil Suhaimi whipped a wicked free kick into the box which found the head of Pedro who could only put it wide. It was already building up to be quite the entertaining game.


If we were to find a goal, it seemed most likely that it would come from our Montenegrin hitman, Boris. Our top scorer was giving the Hougang defence a truly torrid time especially down their right side with Nazrul and Lionel struggling to subdue him. His record also speaks for itself having scored 9 goals in his SPL appearances against the Cheetahs.

As both teams struggled to find some sort of rhythm, it led to half chances for both teams with Pedro and Boris coming close for their respective sides.


Hougang would then find their feet and fashion themselves a couple of opportunities. Yet, these efforts did not find the back of the net.

Yet, the deadlock would be broken soon.


Shawal would dispossess Ryann Sanizal and the loose ball fell to Nazrul. A quick pass forward found Pedro’s clever flick into the path of Kristijan Krajcek, who would take two strides before taking the shot on. A cruel deflection off Kyoga would take the ball past the despairing dive of Syazwan. 1-0 and work to do for our Stags.

We looked for an immediate response which came from Kyoga but unfortunately his shot went over the bar after the Hougang defence seemed to back off.

Hougang would then push to find a second goal but found Syazwan tough to beat. Kaishu looked to strike from distance again but found the gloves of Syazwan instead with a low drive from outside the box. Krajcek would have the second bite of the cherry but his snap shot from inside the box was palmed away brilliantly by our man in goal. And how important that save would turn out to be.

Taufik Suparno’s driving run into the Hougang box started our next move. When it looked as if he had no way through, he found a delicious back flick into Kyoga’s path. Without breaking stride, the Japanese magician whipped in the cross of dreams and found Boris peeling away from his marker. With a strike of his outstretched boot, the Montenegrin hot-shot made it 19 goals for the season, pulling level with Kodai Tanaka at the top of the scoring charts. For Kyoga, it was his 6th assist of a productive season so far. 1-1.

The goal lifted the spirits and sent the Stags in search of more. Aggressive pressing by Taufik forced Hougang’s Anders Aplin to lose the ball. Yasir sets up Firdaus Kasman bearing down on goal but his shot is well saved by Aizil. With the half coming to a close, it would have been the dream to go into the break with a lead.

Hougang, though, would have the last shot of the half as Pedro found space - but his shot would rattle the post. A breathless first half for both teams but would we be able to conjure the win? A tough fight was to come for sure.


Second Half


The first 10 minutes of the second half started cautiously with both teams pressing but not creating any clear cut chances. But in the 54th minute that was all about to change for both sides.


Shawal Anuar stole in front of Amirul to connect to Hafiz Sujad’s cross only to see his header sail over Syazwan’s crossbar. Only a minute later, Hougang would pour forward with Krajcek, Pedro and Kaishu leading the charge. Pedro would find Kaishu in space, but his shot was blocked by Shuya Yamashita for a corner. And believe it or not, from that corner is how we find our second goal.

Miscommunication at the corner led to Yasir stealing the ball and driving towards the Hougang half. He passes to Kyoga and continues his run. As pre-assists go, this was probably among the best that this admin has ever seen. Kyoga does just that with a through ball splitting through the heart of the Hougang defence with surgical precision - Yasir does not even have to break stride running onto it. With Taufik to his left and Boris to his right, he played it to the Montenegrin who finished it with aplomb, taking him straight back to the outright top of the scoring charts with his 20th of the season. 2-1 to us.

The joy then turned to despair just a minute later. Hafiz takes a quick throw into Pedro who flicks it into the path of Kaishu Yamasaki, who had taken a couple shots on goal already and had been denied. He was not to be denied this time. From a full 30 yards out, he fires an unstoppable drive into the top corner of Syazwan’s net. Nothing our custodian could have done about that. 2-2.

With both teams trying to gain control of the game, changes were made. We sent on Irwan Shah, Shameer Aziq and Syed Firdaus Hassan while Hougang brought on Amy Recha. However, as we pushed on to find the winner, Hougang took advantage.


A swift counter attack led by Shawal was stopped by great defending from Ryann, unfortunately it was from the resulting corner that Hougang took the lead. Krajcek fired the ball towards the near post, Shawal evaded his marker and tucked it home past Syazwan. It was 2-3 but still time for the Stags to stage a comeback.


This was, however, put to bed in the 87th minute, when Krajcek scored his second of the game after being set up by substitute Farhan Zulkifli’s layoff.


Reflections


Yes, it has been a tough season to endure. With the rich history and culture we possess, the losses have been tough to swallow.


Yet, with the long-term project we have in mind, we appreciate the fans’ support and patience - something we never take for granted. Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learnt. There will be times of joy, there will be times of pain.


Despite this, there are still 11 more games to be played and we still have every chance to make this a successful season by qualifying for the AFC Cup.

The Stand has always been behind us and we call on your everbounding support as we tide through this difficult period.

With the Eastern Derby coming next, lets bounce back in the grandest way possible and keep Our Tampines Hub Yellow and Black.

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