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Wrong End Of The See-Saw : Hougang United 4 - 2 Tampines Rovers

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Bring on Matchday 14, as we faced Hougang United in the Battle of the AFC Cup sides at Hougang Stadium. It was sure to be a tough one as they were on a run of 3 wins in their last 5 in all competitions, while we were searching for ours.

The absence of defensive lynchpin Shuya Yamashita through injury was also felt, as Head Coach Gavin Lee fielded a back line with an average age of 22.2 years old. The Hougang United frontline of Pedro Bortoluzo, Amy Recha and Kristijan Krajcek was sure to prove a big test for the youngsters, and soon enough, the kick-off whistle sounded.


First Half


Hougang’s game plan was clear - to pressure and try and knock us off our game, especially with their pacy forward line. There were however still opportunities where we managed to play through their press and nearly create shooting chances.

However, luck was not on our side as we conceded an early penalty. Adam Reefdy was adjudged to have handled a shot by Amy, and Pedro was on hand to tuck the penalty away. 1-0 to the Cheetahs and work to do for us.

Our clearest opportunity was to come at 17 minutes, as great combination play from Zehrudin ‘Zeko’ Mehmedović and Kyoga Nakamura released the marauding Amirul Haikal down the left, whose shot was parried by the Hougang custodian Mukundan Maran.

That was not the last we saw of that partnership, as 4 minutes later, Zeko found Kyoga in the box with an incisive pass. Kyoga spun brilliantly past Anders Aplin but his shot stung the palms of Hougang’s goalkeeper once again. He was not to be denied though, as neat passing from back to front culminated in Zeko playing a majestic through ball between the Hougang defenders, to which Kyoga was on hand to knock it past Mukundan for his first SPL goal for the season. Game on.

It looked as if we were growing into the game, but the stop-start nature of the contest meant that neither team could really find their full rhythm. This unfortunately played into Hougang’s hands as they scored their next goal at 37 minutes. Chris Van Huizen’s back pass to Irfan Najeeb was cut out by Krajcek, whose first time cross was met by Pedro at the far post to score his second in the tie.

And that was how the half ended. 2-1 to Hougang and we needed to find a way through the Hougang press more often to create more opportunities.


Second Half


At the start of the second half, it was much the same story, with both teams being strung into a midfield battle trying to get a stranglehold of the game. This was, until the 58th minute of the encounter.


Jordan Vestering’s foul on Boris sets up a free-kick for us 30 yards from goal - a familiar position for a certain Montenegrin striker. The usual suspects of Kyoga, Zeko and Boris stood over it, but there was always going to be only one man taking the shot. The whistle blew, and Boris sweetly fired it past Mukundan for the second equalizer of the game. That goal puts ‘Big Bad’ Boris on 17 goals for the season, surpassing his season total for the previous season, and with still 14 games left to play - this also makes it his 9th goal in 6 appearances against the Cheetahs.

All of a sudden, the Stags had their tails up. Quick-fire near chances from Chris Van Huizen and Boris were to come, however, these were to be defended well by Hougang and saved by Hougang’s keeper respectively. But in the 67th minute, a hammer blow was to be struck by Hougang.

A free kick sent into the box by Zulfahmi Arriffin was duly headed home by Pedro for his hat-trick and we found ourselves behind again. The Stags fought valiantly for a third equalizer in the game, but Shawal Anuar compounded our misery in the last minute, as he slotted home after we failed to clear our lines. The match, as such, ended 4-2 in favour of the Cheetahs.

Reflections


In the tale of the AFC Cup teams, we unfortunately came up short. It has been difficult, but as a club, we have gotten through tough times and that has made us stronger. What we won’t do is make excuses for ourselves. As our Head Coach Gavin Lee explained after the game, despite our hefty schedule, Hougang were faced with the same situation and they came out on top in this tie.

As we pick up the pieces and rise up from the defeat, we would like to extend our thanks once again to The Stand for being behind us during both the good, and the bad times. As the adage goes, ‘Pressure Makes Diamonds’, and despite the pressure we face now, we will surely build the diamonds through this challenging period.

Once again, thank you for always having our backs, and we will see you again as we finally return Home this Sunday.

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