Cheetahs upbeat about new term

Above: Hougang's new men Charlie Machell (left, forward) and Zachary Anderson (centre-back) in training. Left: Stipe Plazibat, who has 49 goals in 67 games in Singapore's professional league, will be deployed up front after featuring in a wide positi
Above: Hougang's new men Charlie Machell (left, forward) and Zachary Anderson (centre-back) in training. Left: Stipe Plazibat, who has 49 goals in 67 games in Singapore's professional league, will be deployed up front after featuring in a wide position last year. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Above: Hougang's new men Charlie Machell (left, forward) and Zachary Anderson (centre-back) in training. Left: Stipe Plazibat, who has 49 goals in 67 games in Singapore's professional league, will be deployed up front after featuring in a wide positi
Above: Hougang's new men Charlie Machell (left, forward) and Zachary Anderson (centre-back) in training. Left: Stipe Plazibat, who has 49 goals in 67 games in Singapore's professional league, will be deployed up front after featuring in a wide position last year. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Four key men gone, including top scorer Faris, but coach Teo buoyed by new signings

Most football coaches would be worried about losing four key players, including a 16-goal top scorer who was voted the best player in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), for the new season.

But not Hougang United's Clement Teo, who remains bullish about his team's title challenge ahead of the Community Shield clash against Tampines Rovers at the Jalan Besar Stadium today.

They have stepped in for league champions Brunei DPMM, who will skip the event because of "precautionary travel restrictions" due to the coronavirus situation.

The Cheetahs have lost SPL Player of the Year Faris Ramli (to Terengganu), skipper Zulfahmi Arifin (Suphanburi), centre-back Afiq Yunos (Trat) and forward Iqbal Hussain (Geylang International), who contributed to their historic third-place finish last season.

Teo said: "No one is indispensable, and I feel we can be as good as, if not better, than last season."

The 54-year-old's confidence stems from solid recruitment in the off-season and tactical tweaks.

Forwards Shawal Anuar and Sahil Suhaimi, who hit scoring form towards the end of the season, were poached from Geylang and Warriors FC respectively.

The Singapore internationals could form a lethal trident with 30-year-old Croat Stipe Plazibat, who will be deployed up front after featuring in a wide position last year, while Shahfiq Ghani also adds depth with his deadly left leg.

Plazibat, who has 49 goals in 67 SPL games, said: "I'm happy to be playing as a striker again because it is my preferred position.

"I'm also happy because we have a real team spirit and atmosphere in the locker room.

"Last season, we broke the mental barrier of finishing in the top half and the top three for the first time. We showed we have the potential to be even better so, mentally, we have to be more prepared."

  • Match dedicated to #SGUnited effort

    Today's Community Shield between Tampines Rovers and Hougang United will be dedicated to the #SGUnited effort, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said in a Facebook post, to show support for those working at the front line of the coronavirus outbreak.

    Both teams and the Football Association of Singapore have pledged $25,000 to the Courage Fund, which was set up 17 years ago during the Sars period to provide relief to victims and healthcare workers.

Former Australian youth international and A-League champion Zachary Anderson, a 1.91m centre-back, has been a major transfer coup as Hougang, last year's top scorers on 58, look to shore up a defence that conceded 45 goals in 24 SPL games.

Teo said: "We lacked someone to command in defence and we now have Zac and Anders Aplin (from Geylang). At full-back positions, we also have experience in Hafiz Sujad and Nazrul Nazari.

"This season is going to be a challenge, with so many teams looking like they can also be contenders. We won't write off anyone but we will focus on ourselves."

As the Jalan Besar Stadium will undergo returfing works next month, returning to Hougang Stadium for their SPL home games this term will also give the team a boost.

Captain and goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid said: "With the fans behind us, and the team we have this season, we won't fear any team."

Tampines are unbeaten against Hougang since 2016, and while the Singapore Cup champions have lost skipper and midfield linchpin Shahdan Sulaiman to newly privatised club Lion City Sailors, they have recruited an able replacement in Albirex Niigata's Kyoga Nakamura.

Tampines coach Gavin Lee said: "What we have done is to bring in players that I feel can give us different solutions to losing Shahdan.

"Kyoga is a left-footer who gives us different angles of passes to break lines. He is combining well with Zehrudin Mehmedovic, who is taking more ownership."

Today's Community Shield between Tampines Rovers and Hougang United will be dedicated to the #SGUnited effort, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said in a Facebook post, to show support for those working at the front line of the coronavirus outbreak.

Both teams and the Football Association of Singapore have pledged $25,000 to the Courage Fund, which was set up 17 years ago during the Sars period to provide relief to victims and healthcare workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2020, with the headline 'Cheetahs upbeat about new term '. Print Edition | Subscribe