Hougang trump Rams to return to winning ways
Hougang United celebrated their first victory in four matches as they beat hosts Woodlands Wellington by a comfortable 3-1 margin on Friday evening.
Two goals from Jordan Webb sent the Cheetahs on their way, before defender Stanislav Vidakovic scrapped for a third goal before the first hour was up.
All the Rams could muster in front of the 688-strong crowd was a Goh Swee Swee header 19 minutes from time as their winless streak was extended to five games.
Hougang meanwhile snapped their three-match winless run and ensured a happy return to Woodlands Stadium for their coach Nenad Bacina, who had helmed the Rams three years ago.
“I’m definitely happy with this win, as we collected three points while playing away,” beamed the 40-year-old.
“I would like to congratulate my players, this is a product of their hard work. They took this game seriously, played the 90 minutes very professionally, controlled the game and I think they deserve these three points today.”
Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo was keen to make sure no one from his team was absolved of blame when he spoke to sleague.com.
“Basically we lost to a better team,” he noted.
“We tried, but I think we could have done better. I won’t comment on the individuals’ performances, the whole team lost. Everyone is at fault, including me.
“I think we have to improve in every department. As a team, there are certain tactical adjustments that we need to sort out and polish up.”
Bacina set out to press the Rams right from the start in an attempt to force them into play the long ball, and that strategy worked a treat for his team.
Azhar Sairudin’s absence for a red card was hardly felt as Nurhilmi Jasni fitted in seamlessly in the middle of the park alongside Ante Barac.
There were a number of chances before Hougang managed to open the accounts.
As early as the third minute, Woodlands goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar flapped at a Barac free kick, but Sobrie Mazelan could not mark a perfect return to the starting lineup as his resulting touch was cleared by an alert Fabien Lewis.
Webb was clear on goal with nine minutes of play gone, but Ahmadulhaq managed to foil him, while Vidakovic nodded a Barac corner wide minutes later.
A Daniel Hammond trip on Webb saw the Cheetahs get a dead ball 20 yards from goal on 18 minutes, but Barac saw his curler cannon unluckily off the post and into Ahmadulhaq’s grateful arms.
Woodlands themselves had two opportunities which they failed to convert.
Edward Tan lifted a free kick just over the bar on five minutes, while Farizal Basri saw his near-post shot pushed away by one-time teammate Fadhil Salim after doing well to latch on to a poor Cheetahs clearance.
Hougang could have lost their way as the hosts began to get a feel of the game, but Webb ensured nothing calamitous would happen to his team as he lit up the stage just before the half-hour mark with another cracker in his already-impressive repertoire.
Pushing the ball past his marker on the left with no obstacle in sight, the Canadian hotshot released a rising piledriver from all of 30 yards out that only left Ahmadulhaq in flailing admiration.
Young fullback Vincent Lee was promptly hauled off for the more experienced K. Sathiaraj in a quick change from Rams head coach Salim Moin.
“Vincent did well in training, we do give players who perform in training a chance to play,” said Teo, speaking on Salim’s instructions.
“This is only his second start, and he’s a bit tense since he’s playing at home and had friends coming to watch him play. He tried initially but we felt it will kill off his confidence gradually if we left him out there.”
Hougang could have gone two up within two minutes of the goal, but Ahmadulhad did better with a flying save to deny Hasree Zais.
Woodlands had an opening on 42 minutes when Hasree misjudged Tan’s long ball, but Farizal failed to capitalise on Moon Soon Ho’s cut-in.
A one-goal deficit at the break could be described as ‘manageable’ for the home side, but any hopes of coming back into the game evaporated three minutes into the second half.
Webb’s mazy dribble on the left caused early confusion in the Woodlands box before Barac was tugged back by Lewis, leading to a penalty that Teo described afterwards as ‘soft’.
No card was issued, but the ball on the spot was quite enough, as Webb clinically dispatched his kick past Ahmadulhaq’s outstretched dive from 12 yards out.
Woodlands attacker Hussein Akil tried his best to haul his team back into the game, but twice he missed, first firing over from range before his free kick was deflected inches wide.
It was game over for the Rams on 56 minutes when Satharaj blocked Webb at the edge of the penalty area, allowing Barac yet another chance to take a free kick.
Ahmadulhaq’s punched clearance fell to a lurking Mamadou Diallo, who released a snap-shot that looked to be going wide of goal before hitting Vidakovic, who had gone to ground after an initial header attempt had failed.
The Croatian defender gleefully wheeled off in celebration, to the dismay of the home side.
With the result now secure, Webb was hauled off after sustaining a groin strain in the first half, while the Rams threw midfielders Armanizam Dolah and Aloysius Yap into the mix.
That gave Salim’s side some hope of salvaging some respectability, and Farizal had another attempt deflected on 63 minutes after some good off-the-ball work by Moon.
Tan’s free kick went into Fadhil’s arms minutes later, but Woodlands were determined to snatch a goal.
They finally got their reward on 71 minutes when a cutback from Yap saw Armanizam produce a deep cross that embarrassed Fadhil, and Goh’s slight nod of the ball went in off the bar to the disgust of the Hougang custodian.
Moon had a chance to pull another goal back two minutes later, but his cleverly-hooked volley from an acute angle was pushed away by Fadhil.
Despite those moments, however, the Cheetahs saw out the game comfortably in the end.
A long post-match talk then took place among the Woodlands players and officials, which Teo described as a ‘natural process’ after a heartbreaking loss.
“We did well in the last game, came back to play at home and lost,” he remarked.
“The fans, including a Member of Parliament, turned up, thus the players naturally felt down to lose in front of them. We’ve just got to push them up and tell them ‘let’s go’.
“We know we’re a good side. I think after the first two games, expectations were high considering how many games we took to win last season. The boys are a bit pressured in that sense.”
Bacina meanwhile cut a happy figure, even managing a joke or two along the way.
“I was saying before the match that I like to play with my friends, and most importantly I like to beat my friends because it’s a good feeling!” he laughed.
“The deflection by Vidakovic was a piece of luck, but I think we deserve this. On certain occasions today Lady Luck was on our side, compared to last few matches, especially against Tampines (Rovers), when we conceded (the equaliser) in injury time.
“We could have even scored in the second minute today, but Sobrie’s unlucky not to put that in! Maybe he’ll get his luck next game!”