Football: Goalkeepers shine before late drama at Hougang

Hougang goalie Mukundan Maran makes a save during the Singapore Premier League match against Tanjong Pagar. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - With both back-up goalkeepers doing their best to impress, it looked like Hougang United and Tanjong Pagar would produce the first goal-less draw in 34 games this Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.

However, both goals at the Hougang Stadium were eventually breached in the dying minutes on Saturday (May 14) as they played out a 1-1 draw. It was almost a repeat of the last time the two teams met in March, when they played out a 2-2 draw with all the goals also coming in the last 20 minutes.

After the lightning warning system was activated and the kick-off delayed for 90 minutes, it was a scrappy first half in which chances were at a premium.

Both teams came to life in the second half, but their back-up goalkeepers shone.

Tanjong Pagar custodian Fashah Iskandar started as Zharfan Rohaizad is recovering from Covid-19, and pulled off a big save from Shahril Ishak in the 52nd minute.

The 27-year-old then denied Kristijan Krajcek in the 77th minute, before producing a more impressive stop four minutes later when he dived to his left to deny the Croatian from close range.

At the other end, Hougang goalie Mukundan Maran, who is playing as Ridhuan Barudin is out with an illness, also came up with a blinding save from point-blank range to prevent Faritz Hameed from giving the Jaguars a 58th-minute lead.

However, the 26-year-old was powerless to stop the visitors who hit on the break in the 90th minute. Rusyaidi Salime won the ball after colliding against Hafiz Sujad and set up Reo Nishiguchi to blast in what looked to be the deciding goal.

But the hosts kept trying, and were rewarded in the fifth minute of added time as Pedro Bortoluzo popped up at the far post to nod in Kristijan Krajcek's free kick.

Jaguars coach Hasrin Jailani said: "We knew Hougang have been scoring late goals, so we should have stayed focused in added time and defended better, especially in set pieces.

"Credit to Fashah, who played a very good first match for us. We know he is a reliable cover for Zharfan, and we are happy with his performance."

The draw keeps Tanjong Pagar in fourth place with 13 points from nine matches, as Hougang remain sixth with nine points.

Hougang's Pedro Bortoluzo celebrates after scoring against Tanjong Pagar. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

While praising Fashah, Cheetahs coach Clement Teo was also pleased with how Maran and his team performed, as they salvaged a point.

He said: "We love Mukun's commitment and handling, and he will get better with more games.

"In front of him, we replicated what we did in training - attacking from the sides, putting in crosses, and making good runs, but unfortunately, the ball just didn't go in for us before our opponents scored.

"But even after conceding, our players pushed non-stop and the spirit is good for us moving forward."

In the night's other match, defending champions Lion City Sailors restored their six-point lead at the top of the eight-team table as they edged out Geylang International 1-0 at Jalan Besar thanks to Diego Lopes' first-half strike.

Analysis

As Hougang continue to search for that elusive clean sheet - they have conceded in all nine games this season - the gap is widening between them and the top three. They are now six points behind third-placed Tampines Rovers, who have a game in hand.

They have a tendency to concede more than they score when the attackers are on form, yet fail to score enough when they put in a good defensive shift. The result: Dropping unnecessary points against middling teams like they did on Saturday.

Coach Clement Teo has not been able to deploy the same centre-back combination in consecutive games this season, and will hope that Fabian Kwok dropping back into defence will help provide some stability, as his strikers start scoring.

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