League Cup: Two-goal Indra puts Home first
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
Indra Sahdan Daud marked an impactful substitute appearance with two goals to steer Home United to a 2-0 victory over Hougang United in a StarHub League Cup match at Hougang Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The result was enough for the Protectors to overtake Hougang into top spot in Group C, giving them the comfort of playing at their Bishan home in the quarterfinals three days later.
Hougang, naming a surprisingly fresh-faced squad that included seven Prime League players, put up a very commendable first-half performance to repeatedly threaten an off-colour Home side that had more than enough in defence but showed no bite in attack.
Lee Lim Saeng’s half-time triple substitution gambit was handsomely rewarded, however, as Indra’s brace emphatically turned the tide.
Despite leaving Indra and Qiu Li on the bench, Lee fielded a strong first eleven, deploying Frederic Mendy up front with Shotaro Ihata and Firdaus Idros providing wing support.
Nenad Bacina meanwhile decided to omit Hasree Zais, Fazly Hasan and Fazli Jaffar, all of whom were sitting on one yellow card, while Ignatius Ang and Farhan Rahmat were given starting places alongside Jordan Webb, who had missed the team’s first game due to suspension.
With Mamadou Diallo benched and Ante Barac left out of the matchday squad altogether, the Cheetahs were noticeably handicapped in terms of experience and quality.
But they made up for that with courage, as they assaulted both of Home’s flanks in search of an early goal that would tighten their hold on first place.
The Protectors were not about to allow themselves to fall that easily, and even Rosman Sulaiman, who had been guilty of shaky displays in recent weeks, did enough to hold his own in this match.
It was in attack where they struggled to get into rhythm, and apart from one corner and a counterattack led by Ihata, they had nothing resembling a serious chance in the first 20 minutes.
Mendy spurned a golden opportunity on 22 minutes when he killed Ihata’s headed pass and took too long to pull a shot from only ten yards out, allowing a Hougang defender to check him easily.
The Frenchmen even had to come off for treatment as a consequence of that challenge, and he very nearly came to rue the miss when Webb hit the upright with a hopeful curler from the left.
It was the best that would come from the Canadian, whose evening steadily deteriorated from then on, as time after time he faced frustration from either a well-checked run or a stray shot.
Hougang were still giving as good as they got, though, while providing some solid defending to deny Franklin Anzite, whose attempt at a cannon blast on 33 minutes was so obvious it was easily stopped.
Key to the Cheetahs’ good game in the first half was their willingness to play for possession, as their opponents continued to demonstrate inability to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
For all their attacking, though, they rarely gave Lionel Lewis a serious test, and when Lee got Indra and Jeremy Chiang to warm up late into the first half, there was a sense that a bold move was about to come from the 40-year-old.
True enough, he removed Anzite, Ihata and Firdaus Idros and sent on Indra and Chiang, as well as Qiu, who apparently did not need to jog or stretch very much to get himself ready.
The Protectors promptly responded as skipper Shi Jiayi fired a low shot straight into former Home custodian Ridzuan Fatah Hassan, who had a firm first half cutting out prospective threats instead of simply responding to shots.
Home’s next attack on 49 minutes yielded the goal they craved, although the manner in which Indra took his potshot from the right flank looked so fortuitous it was actually cruel on Ridzuan.
Webb tried to inspire his Hougang teammates with a run from left to centre on 54 minutes, only to fire a shot from outside the area that Lewis comfortably pushed away.
And the hosts were in further trouble three minutes later as Qiu’s low shot from the left forced Ridzuan to parry, and Indra stormed in to tap home the follow-up shot from six yards out.
The former Singapore skipper was certainly in hot form, and he very nearly had his hat-trick ten minutes from time when he got his head too far under the ball from a cross on the right.
Qiu looked less impressive, however, as he got into a couple of altercations and was eventually booked by referee Sukhbir Singh for dissent, mere minutes after surviving a back injury scare.
Still, the Protectors were firmly in command at 2-0 up, and Hougang had little hope of clawing their way back to level terms as Webb cut an increasingly isolated figure on the pitch.
Diallo’s entry on 62 minutes proved insufficient to turn things around for Bacina’s side, and when Farhan had to be withdrawn after repeatedly suffering from cramp, it showed how exhausted he and his teammates were by their efforts to keep up with the game.
They came very close to pulling back a consolation goal when Syaqir Sulaiman drew a fine save from Lewis with three minutes left, but in the end they had to put their hand up and admit defeat.
And it was a defeat that came at the hands of a most outstanding Indra, who appears to be playing himself into form at last in his second spell with Home.
Lee lauds ‘good effort’ from substitutes
Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng was pleased to see his triple-substitution gamble at half-time pay off handsomely as his side overcame Hougang United 2-0 on Wednesday evening.
Indra Sahdan Daud, who was one of the three men thrown into the fray in the second half, contributed directly to the improvement of the attacking setup by scoring both goals himself.
“We had some kind of problem in the first half, and that’s why we made three substitutions at half-time,” explained Lee.
“It’s not that the players who were taken out didn’t show effort, but somehow things didn’t work. But the three players who came in showed good effort, especially Indra, and I’m happy for them.
“I left Qiu Li out for the first half because he had some problems in his family. He was not mentally ready, and he showed some temper when he came on.
“But he calmed down after the yellow card, no problem. And like everyone else, he showed good effort for the team.”
Home are now top of Group C, setting them up for a date with Bruneian side DPMM FC in the quarterfinals, with Hougang potentially becoming their semifinals opponents if they can beat SAFFC at Choa Chu Kang.
The difficult path to a place in the final on 11 August prompted Lee to remark that the real business began only after the final whistle had gone off at Hougang.
“This is not the end of the competition; this is where the League Cup begins for us,” he stressed.
Hougang coach Nenad Bacina saluted his opponents for fielding a strong lineup against his players, several of whom showed up well in a rare senior appearance against one of the league’s toughest propositions.
“I congratulate Home United, but honestly, we had an excellent first half,” said the Croat.
“We controlled the game, we showed them how football was supposed to be played. And I was very confident about the players, even though some of them have never experienced this kind of match, especially against a team like Home.
“I’m glad that Home showed respect to Hougang by playing a full team. And at the end of the day, they had someone like Indra, who could turn up and light up the match with his quality.
“But we have a big squad at Hougang United, and we showed tonight that we have players who are good enough to play at this level. We look forward to facing SAFFC, another top team in Singapore football, in the quarterfinals, and I can tell you we will try to go for the semifinals!”