Football: Cheetahs require stealth to catch Young Lions

Hougang United’s Croatian midfielder Stipe Plazibat (second from left) is the toast of his team-mates, after opening their account in the 34th minute of their S-League opener against Home United.
Hougang United’s Croatian midfielder Stipe Plazibat (second from left) is the toast of his team-mates, after opening their account in the 34th minute of their S-League opener against Home United.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

As the season draws to a close, sixth-placed Hougang United have proven to be the Jekyll and Hyde of the nine-team S-League this year.

On their best days, the Cheetahs are able to beat high-flyers Tampines Rovers (second-placed) and Home United (fourth). On their worst, however, they will stumble to defeats by struggling Warriors FC (seventh) and draws with Balestier Khalsa (eighth).

And when Hougang take on cellar dwellers Garena Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium, coach K. Balagumaran wants his players to stay grounded.

"Whenever we come away with a big victory, the boys get a big boost in morale and sometimes, the team gets overconfident," Bala said.

"This overconfidence sometimes causes individual mistakes to occur in games and I want them to cut it out. There's only five games to go.

"I've told the players they need to be level-headed and not take any opposition lightly. The professional attitude they display on the pitch must also stay with them off it."

Bala's situation is also not helped by injuries and suspensions plaguing his side. He said: "Our attack is fine but defence is our main issue.

"We haven't been able to shape our defence properly this season, especially when it comes to our centre-backs. Delwinder (Singh) was out for a while, and so was Ali (Hudzaifi). Raihan (Rahman) is suspended too.

"Our first-choice goalkeeper Khairulhin (Khalid) was also injured but he'll likely start (today). We've suffered a lot because we had to shift our backline many times."

The last time Hougang and the Young Lions met, they played out a 1-1 stalemate and Bala knows victory tonight will be tough.

"No one is easy to beat and the three points won't be a guarantee. The Young Lions have danger men in strikers Fareez Farhan and Khairul Amri, we have to watch out for them.

"We must pressure them from the start and target their midfield. A win will be vital in building our momentum before the season ends."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Cheetahs require stealth to catch Young Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe