SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Geylang International v Hougang United
Bedok, tomorrow, 5.30pm
Time is running out for Hougang United to avoid the ignominy of finishing last in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
With just seven games left, the Cheetahs are 10 points adrift at the foot of the SPL table, having cobbled together just seven points from 17 matches.
They take on second-from-bottom Geylang International at the Bedok Stadium tomorrow, knowing that a 13th defeat will almost certainly mean they will end the season as wooden spoonists for the second time in four years.
Caretaker coach Clement Teo told The Straits Times: "Yes, the boys are frustrated, but they're not deflated. They're still working hard and pushing themselves in training and in games.
"We've created chances, but they are just not going in. No one who plays football will say it's OK to be at the bottom. But I say it's never too late."
The numbers paint a picture of a team who have managed to be competitive but are unable to get results. Half of their 12 losses were by the odd goal, including a 2-1 defeat by Warriors FC on Wednesday. Only twice have they lost by more than two goals.
Their two defeats by Albirex Niigata - 1-0 in May and 2-1 last month - were among only seven times this season the champions did not win by more than one goal.
One reason for Hougang's struggles is their profligacy. They have scored a paltry 13 goals in 17 games - the worst record in the SPL.
The other low-scoring sides - Balestier Khalsa, Young Lions and Geylang - have scored 20.
To boost their firepower, Hougang signed strikers Fazrul Nawaz and Chang Jo-yoon in the mid-season transfer window about three weeks ago.
The 33-year-old Fazrul, who was the top local scorer in the S-League (before it was rebranded as the SPL) in 2014 and 2015, joined on loan from Tampines Rovers, where he found himself playing second fiddle to the in-form Khairul Amri.
Chang, a 30-year-old South Korean, returns to local football after scoring 38 goals in 129 games for various S-League teams from 2009 to 2014.
Hougang skipper Fabian Kwok said: "The two of them have looked very positive in training.
"Fazrul brings experience, leadership and a work ethic, and he's even been doing extra training on finishing with some of the boys.
"Chang, meanwhile, played here when the league was stronger than it is now, and scored goals. No one wants to be bottom, but we have to forget about the table, take each game as it comes, and buck up."
Hougang will have their work cut out when they face resurgent Geylang tomorrow. After a slow start, the Eagles have won five of their last 11 games, including Wednesday's 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa.
Head coach Hirotaka Usui is wary of the threat Hougang pose.
"We have to forget that we beat Balestier," he said. "Hougang are a strong team, and they have strengthened with some signings.
"Even though their results have not been so good, they have many good and experienced players, especially in attack. They are dangerous opponents, for sure."