SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Balestier Khalsa 0
Hougang United 1
The most undesirable record in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) finally bit the dust yesterday as Hougang United defeated Balestier Khalsa 1-0 for their first victory of the season at the 11th attempt.
While entertainment was in short supply in a scrappy contest at Toa Payoh Stadium, there was plenty of hard running, crunching tackles and brave headers from both sides, but it was the Cheetahs' determination to end that wretched run which gave them the three points.
Balestier, starting the day in third position in the nine-team SPL, were the favourites but, Hougang, with caretaker coach Clement Teo making his debut after the sacking of Philippe Aw, battled heroically.
After a scrappy first half, captain Nurhilmi Jasni scored the winner in the 73rd minute, rising highest to meet an inswinging corner to glance into the net.
The veteran midfielder's goal sparked a frenetic finale when the Tigers laid siege on the visitors' goal only for Hougang to perform heroics to preserve the clean sheet.
In the 89th minute, Cheetahs goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid parried a powerful header from midfielder Noor Akid Nordin. And, in stoppage time, midfielder Hazzuwan Halim's shot beat Khairulhin, but defender Faiz Salleh scrambled the ball off the line.
It is such desire that pleased Teo, who said: "Credit has to go to all my players. They gave their heart and soul and were determined to win.
"As a coach, all I can do is shout, but they are the ones who put their bodies in front of the ball. They are certainly very motivated."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic had no complaints about his men's fighting spirit, but felt that fortune had abandoned his side.
OTHER SPL RESULTS
Tampines Rovers 2
Warriors FC 3
Home United 2
Geylang International 0
He said: "I can't criticise my players, everybody worked very hard. The result is unfortunate and this is bad luck.
"Hougang didn't make many chances, they didn't threaten much, but they had one corner and scored from it. It's a 50-50 game, but sometimes, that's football."
While Balestier could not take their chances, Hougang certainly made theirs count and, with the win, a pall has finally been lifted off the SPL's bottom side.
Teo said: "This is what you get when you have players who want to give their best.
"There is joy and happiness in the team now but, once we go back to the training field again, it is time to focus on our next game.
"They are professionals; they know they've to do this for a living."