SINGAPORE - Hougang United ended their three-match losing run in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with a 3-2 comeback win over bottom side Tanjong Pagar United 3-2 on Saturday (Nov 28) that also revived their AFC Cup qualification bid.
Head coach Clement Teo was satisfied to collect three points after watching his team fall behind to Farihin Farkhan's opener in the 22nd minute but admitted Hougang were sloppy at critical moments.
Teo said: "Playing an all-local team makes me a little happy but it's very unfortunate that there were still errors we had adjusted in training. The players need to be more disciplined in what they're being assigned to do.
"We dominated the game in the first half but the problem was the last pass. The energy level going forward is something we were very critical about.
"It showed when we started breaking and crossing early and fortunately Anders (Aplin) was there to score (the second goal)."
The visitors' lead at Hougang Stadium lasted just three minutes as Tanjong Pagar's Yann Mota conceded a penalty which Shawal Anuar converted. Defender Aplin's second-half header then put them ahead but a mistake from goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin, who spilled Luiz Junior's shot into substitute Suria Prakash's path, levelled the game.
Ridhuan made up for his earlier error by producing important saves to deny Shodai Nishikawa and Junior before Hougang earned a second penalty in the 88th minute. Substitute Shahfiq Ghani made no mistake to deliver a much-needed win for the hosts.
Hougang are sixth in the eight-team SPL on 15 points but crucially, just one behind Balestier Khalsa and Geylang International. Their clash on Saturday ended 2-0 in Balestier's favour.
With two games left, all three are still vying for a berth in next year's AFC Cup
Hougang's next match is at home against Balestier before they end their campaign against leaders Albirex Niigata on Dec 5.
Aplin, 29, called on his teammates for one final push. He said: "Our performance is a step up from our last few games. It's not been easy after the restart with the tough fixture list. We just tried to rally ourselves and put in a good performance and we got the result today which is good and takes us very nicely into the last two games.
"It's our collective goal to qualify for the AFC Cup. All we can do is take each game as it comes and give it our best shot. As long as we have no regrets, we can be proud of ourselves."
For Tanjong Pagar, who are still win-less after 12 games, the wait goes on. Team manager Noh Alam Shah said: "We were unlucky but we're the one who gave away all the goals with a lack of focus.
"The lads have given their all, we were disciplined and organised in the first half and could go forward with a lot of intensity but it's the lack of concentration that gave away goals we need to look at."
Despite the coronavirus pandemic causing havoc to the competition schedule, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting SPL seasons in recent memory.
Albirex and Tampines Rovers, who meet on Sunday and separated by just two points, are locked in a tense battle for the title.
Below them, the Lion City Sailors are expected to secure one of the two AFC Cup spots, leaving a three-way contest between Hougang, Balestier and Geylang for the other.
The season ends on Dec 5 and we could be in for a blockbuster finale.