<Photo Credit: Christina Seah Rodrigues>
HOUGANG UNITED 3
(Stipe Plazibat 54 pen, Faiz Salleh 59, Raihan Rahman 87)
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL 1
(Carlos Delgado 15 pen)
One-nil and you fucked it up, one-nil and you fucked it up, the Hougang faithful sang in glee. It was a cheeky taunt directed at Geylang International, but it's true. Once again the Eagles took the lead, once again they were unable to win, as they succumbed to a 3-1 away defeat by Hougang United.
It is now four games that Hasrin Jailani's men have failed to protect their lead. In total, across these four games, they have managed to hold on to their lead for 51 minutes as they now slipped to seventh in the nine-team S.League. The contrast is even starker when you look at Hougang United, who have sealed victory in all four matches in which they have gone ahead to fly high in second place on 13 points, one behind Tampines Rovers, who beat the hapless Balestier Khalsa 1-0 in last night's other match to become the S.League's only remaining unbeaten team.
Statistics can sometimes be manipulated to tell different stories. So while this was Geylang's first loss in seven games this season, they have also won just one, which is the same as cellar dwellers Garena Young Lions.
Their goals for and against (9-9) are also remarkable similar to Hougang's (9-8) but they just lacked to mojo to grind out wins. This did not prevent them from starting brightly as their Eagles Ultras also duked it out with the Hougang Hools in the terraces. Former Hougang favourite Carlos Delgado buried a 15th-minute penalty after Fumiya Kogure was adjudged to have tugged Sahil Suhaimi, and the Eagles actually kept the score at 1-0 until half time.
But Kogure made amends when he won a penalty against Daniel Bennett and Stipe Plazibat rammed it down the middle to equalise in the 54th minute for this sixth goal of the season to draw level with Warriors FC striker Jonathan Behe in the topscorers' list.
It got even better for Kogure when his 59th-minute corner was met with an unwittingly lopping header by Faiz Salleh over a stranded Syazwan Buhari. This was the first Hougang goal scored by a player other than Plazibat or an own goal this season.
They could blame bad luck or poor refereeing by Sukhbir Singh who waved away Amy Recha and Gabriel Quak's claims for more penalties, with the latter booked for simulation. Both Geylang players, along with Sahil Suhaimi and Stanely Ng were among the locals who shone for their team, but they just lacked the decisive pass and finish in the final third.
It was to get worse with Raihan Rahman's expert finish three minutes from time despite suffering from cramps. Hasrin now has a tough job on his hands to make his demoralised team believe they can actually beat teams outside of the Young Lions. Confidence is a prized but fragile commodity, but Home United have shown that it is possible to overturn fortunes and move up the table in what has become a very competitive season for the top seven teams.
"We need to start converting more of the chances we create, and stop conceding stupid fouls," he said.
"We were not hungry enough to win tonight but now it would be interesting to see we bounce back from our first loss. I want to see them come back from this in our next game (against Home United next week)."
On the other end, Hougang coach K Balagumaran now has evidence that his side have the character to bounce back from defeat (they lost 2-0 at Albirex Niigata last week) or the concession of an early goal, and go on to achieve their aim of a historic first-half finish.
He added: "The boys really wanted to get back the three points they lost last week by winning this week. "I told the boys at half time I believe in them and they must believe in themselves too. We came back stronger and I'm very satisfied with how we came back with three goals after going down."
HOUGANG UNITED: Khairulhin Khalid, Nazrul Nazari, Yusiskandar Yusop, M Anumanthan, Faiz Salleh (Khairulnizam Juma'at 77), Raihan Rahman, Nurhilmi Jasni, Fairoz Hasan (Iqbal Hussain 67), Jozef Kaplan (Huzaifah Aziz 89), Stipe Plazibat, Fumiya Kogure
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL: Syazwan Buhari, Faritz Hameed, Shariff Samat, Daniel Bennett, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Amy Recha (Shawal Anuar 75), Stanely Ng, Isa Halim (Nor Azli Yusoff 64), Carlos Delgado, Gabriel Quak (Indra Sahdan Daud 81), Sahil Suhaimi