They may have finished third in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) behind champions Lion City Sailors and Albirex Niigata.
But the efforts of unfashionable Hougang United were recognised at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Awards Night as they picked up the best player and coach gongs at the Aux Media Studio in Kallang yesterday.
In addition to winning the top scorer award, 19-goal striker Tomoyuki Doi was crowned Player of the Year to cap a fruitful two years in Singapore. He had been a member of Albirex Niigata's title-winning side in 2020.
With the full set of team and individual honours, the 24-year-old will seek greener pastures in Japan, but will always remember how his career took off in Singapore with an impressive total of 30 goals in 34 games.
He said: "My experience in Singapore has made me a stronger person and player. I'm also thankful that Singaporeans have treated me very well, which is not always the case in Japan because sometimes the players and coaches can be not as friendly.
"When I joined Hougang, I expected it to be tough because of the culture difference. But having teammates like Kaishu Yamazaki and coach Clement Teo really helped me settle down and build my confidence. I won the league but missed out on the top scorer and Player of the Year awards last season, so these were things I really wanted, and so I worked hard to become a better No. 9."
While Doi tries his luck in Japan and has interest also from Malaysian and Thai clubs, Coach of the Year Teo is staying put. He plans to lift Hougang to greater heights despite the abundance of resources available to the Sailors, the SPL's only privatised club, and the perennial challenge of Albirex.
This season, Hougang were the only team to beat the Sailors as they took five points out of nine off the champions. But they lost all three encounters against Albirex and their title challenge faded.
Dedicating the award to the late Salim Moin, his mentor, friend and former Hougang and Woodlands Wellington colleague who died last year, the 54-year-old Teo said: "I am honoured, but I couldn't have done this alone. I have 25 sons in the changing room, a supportive chairman (Bill Ng) and good backroom staff, and they have all done well.
"I truly appreciate this recognition from my fellow professionals. But as a club, we haven't won anything yet, and to the best of our abilities, we will try to improve and chance that.
"The Sailors have got a lot going for them, they have set the bar high, and it is up to the rest of us to match what they are doing with what we have."
Also hanging around with the hope of achieving greater things is left-back Nur Adam Abdullah, who was named Young Player of the Year for a sterling debut season with the Sailors as he mixed defensive tenacity with a delightful propensity to bomb forward and augment his team's attack.
The 20-year-old has also come a long way since breaking his leg in 2014 and failing to break through the Young Lions' first XI in 2019. Since then, he has won the championship, received a national call-up, and now claimed an individual award.
The 2018 TNP Dollah Kassim award winner said: "In my first SPL season, I was still trying to find my feet and adjust to the intensity of professional football, before I did better in my second year at Young Lions.
"At the Sailors, I was nervous at the start, but coach Aurelio Vidmar gave me assurance when he started me, the experienced players were very encouraging while helping me to improve from my mistakes, and by the time coach Kim Do-hoon took over, I was confident in my abilities.
"It has been a tough but exciting journey, and I cannot really describe how I feel now besides being happy and grateful to my family, coaches and teammates. I will continue to work hard, and I hope this is just the beginning of a fruitful career for me."
Meanwhile, with eight clean sheets, Albirex goalkeeper Takahiro Koga won the inaugural Golden Glove award for the custodian with the most shut-outs this season, while last season's Player of the Year Gabriel Quak bagged the Goal of the Year for a sumptuous volley in the 4-1 win over Balestier Khalsa in April.
Players from the top three also dominated the Team of the Year, with Balestier's 15-goal striker Sime Zuzul the only player from the other five clubs squeezing into the best XI.
The final nominees and eventual winners of the Player, Coach, Young Player, Goal and SPL Team of the Year awards were selected by a panel comprising the current head coaches, captains, and general managers from the eight SPL clubs, as well as FAS technical director Joseph Palatsides, FAS head of elite youth Fandi Ahmad and five media representatives.
FAS AWARDS NIGHT ROLL OF HONOUR
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tomoyuki Doi (Hougang United)
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Nur Adam Abdullah (Lion City Sailors)
COACH OF THE YEAR
Clement Teo (Hougang)
GOAL OF THE YEAR
Gabriel Quak (Sailors)
REFEREE OF THE YEAR
ASSISTANT REFEREE OF THE YEAR
SPL TOP SCORER
SPL GOLDEN GLOVE
Takahiro Koga (Albirex Niigata)
SPL TEAM OF THE YEAR
Koga; Kazuki Hashioka (Albirex), Jorge Fellipe (Sailors), Shuya Yamashita (Albirex), Nur Adam; Ryoya Taniguchi (Albirex), Kaishu Yamazaki (Hougang), Shahdan Sulaiman (Sailors); Doi, Stipe Plazibat (Sailors), Sime Zuzul (Balestier Khalsa)
STORY OF THE YEAR
Leaving no child behind at HotShotz football clinic (Dilenjit Singh, The New Paper)
PHOTO OF THE YEAR
Battle above the ground (Siaw Woon Chong, Junpiter Futbol)
FAS RECOGNITION AWARDS
Omar Mohamed, Daniel Bennett, A Raamasamy, Jimmy Cheong, Srikisan Ramdas, Thomas Pang, Suzanna Foo, Augustine Arlando, Lai Boon Teck, K. Visva Nathan, N. Santhan, Queensway Secondary School, Bowen Secondary School, Jita Singh, Seak Poh Leong.