(Ken Ilso 16, Song Ui Young 28, Faris Ramli 78)

(Stipe Plazibat 41 pen, Raihan Abdul Rahman 86)

Watch out for Home United in Round 2 of S.League action.

They were one of the title contenders pre-season, but endured a terrible start when they went winless in their first four games and dropped 10 points in the process, effectively killing their title hopes before they could even start to dream. But once they got into the groove, once they kickstarted their campaign with their first win, a 4-1 cakewalk over Garena Young Lions despite conceding the opener, they are now one of the form teams outside of the seemingly unstoppable league leaders Albirex Niigata.

Take away the recent 3-0 defeat by the White Swans, and the Dragons are breathing fire with four wins and one draw in the other five of their last six matches. Their goal tally has also improved from one a game during the winless streak to two a game now, even with the Albirex shutout. From the starting XI, only Zulfahmi Arifin, Aqhari Abdullah, Faris Ramli and Khairul Nizam did not play for Home United last season – most of the other clubs have a bigger overhaul – and that stability, continuity and understanding showed.

Azhar Sairudin paved the way for the 16th-minute opener with a piercing pass from midfield to Ken Ilso, whose brilliant first touch flicked the ball out wide to Nizam. In an unfamiliar role on the right flank, Nizam skipped past the sliding M Anumanthan and returned the ball accurately to Ilso’s feet. The great Dane dummied Yusiskandar Yusop before slamming past Khairulhin Khalid for a splendid team goal, which was his fifth in six games.

Home United’s second was a classic counterattack in the 28th minute. Straight from Hougang’s corner, Faris and Song Ui Young combined with two one-twos before the Korean slotted beyond Khairulhin to score in back-to-back matches. That effectively killed the game, but the Cheetahs are not in the top three for no reason, and promptly made a fist of it in what must be one of the most thrilling games this season.

Hougang did not let their heads down after an apparent injustice when Muhd Taqi waved away claims that Jozef Kaplan’s 40th-minute howitzer had crossed the line after crashing off the bar. To their credit, video replays showed Taqi and his team made the right decision. Within seconds, however, Hougang won a penalty when Nazrul was clumsily upended by Zulfahmi, and Stipe Plazibat stepped up to blast the spot-kick past Hyrulnizam Juma’at.

But another fast break allowed Home United to extend their lead in the 78th minute when substitute Syahiran Miswan split Hougang’s defence with a lovely through pass for Faris to grab his first of the season after coming back from injury.

Raihan Rahman made it a nervy last few minutes when he nodded in Fumiya Kogure’s 86th-minute corner to reduce arrears, and Hougang literally ran till they dropped from cramps, but Hyrulnizam came to his team’s rescue when he palmed away Kaplan’s last-minute shot from the bottom corner to protect the win. With the three points, Home rise to fourth with 15 points, one behind third-placed Hougang and eight behind leaders Albirex Niigata.

But one just can’t help but wonder just why the Protectors could not play like this at the start of the season despite keeping the bulk of their team from last season. Home United coach Philippe Aw tried to explained when he said: “We signed players like Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi Ahmad, and Faris Ramli. They sound like big names and they are good players but they are still not the finished article.

“They still have a lot of room to develop and improve and that’s what we want to do. “After the start we had, a realistic target for us now is the top three. We will try to continue to keep this run going and see where it takes us.”

HOME UNITED: Hyrulnizam Juma’at, Juma’at Jantan, Abdil Qaiyyim, Zulfahmi Arifin, Sirina Camara, Khairul Nizam (Shamil Sharif 46), Song Ui Young, Aqhari Abdullah, Azhar Sairudin (Syahiran Miswan 72), Faris Ramli, Ken Ilso (Sufianto Salleh 85)

HOUGANG UNITED: Khairulhin Khalid, Nazrul Nazari, Yusiskandar Yusop, M Anumanthan, Faiz Salleh (Huzaifah Aziz 68), Iqbal Hussain (Nur Na’iim Ishak 82), Raihan Rahman, Nurhilmi Jasni (Fairoz Hasan 66), Stipe Plazibat, Fumiya Kogure, Jozef Kaplan

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