Football: Hools out for Hougang United, but Cheetahs lose despite loyal fans' backing

Geylang International captain Yuki Khikawa (left) squares off with Hougang United’s forward Sahil Suhaimi at Hougang Stadium on March 15, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Premier League (SPL) match between Hougang United and Geylang International was played behind closed doors on Sunday (March 15) due to the coronavirus situation, but that did not stop a group of 20 fans from gathering outside Hougang Stadium to support their home team.

Armed with drums, banners, flags and a ladder, the Hougang Hools braved the scorching afternoon sun as they made their presence felt outside the gates with chants and cheers for the Cheetahs, and taunts for the visitors.

An Hougang fan who only wanted to be known as Sal, said they had been looking forward to the team playing their first game at their "spiritual home" in more than a year.

The Cheetahs had played their home games at Jalan Besar last season as part of a ground-sharing initiative but moved back to Hougang as the former is being returfed.

He said:"The announcement of closed door SPL games meant we had to plan alternatives.

"We took inspiration from the Paris Saint-Germain fans who camped outside to cheer on their team in their Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund, and we know this area well, so we decided to make this our spot where we can watch and cheer.

"Unless there is a lockdown, the virus is not going to stop us from supporting our team and we will continue to do the same for home and away games."

Unfortunately, their team failed to live up to their side of the bargain and lost 2-1 after blunders from skipper Khairulhin Khalid.

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In the 16th minute, Christopher van Huizen's free-kick from near the right touchline caught Khairulhin off his line for the opener. It got worse for the Hougang goalkeeper four minutes into the second half as he allowed Van Huizen's speculative shot to bobble in between his legs.

Hougang tried to fight their way back into the game and saw Zachary Anderson's header cleared off the line by Barry Maguire, before Shawal Anuar slotted in the consolation goal for the hosts in the 81st minute.

Hougang coach Clement Teo apologised to the home faithful, and said: "We are sorry because we couldn't deliver the three points. We know these fans are always behind us and will be back when we play Balestier Khalsa on Wednesday, and we want to get a good result for them.

"Obviously we are disappointed, but there is no finger-pointing because Khai has saved us many times. What we must do is minimise such errors. We don't want to give any excuses, we must do better all round and be more consistent."

Geylang coach Noor Ali acknowledged his team's good fortune but insisted the Eagles made their own luck.

He said: "We didn't expect them to press us like they did in the first 15 minutes but after we settled down with the first goal, we were in control up until the 65th minute.

"The goalkeeping errors were unexpected but we knew the pitch was bumpy so I told our boys not to be shy to shoot.

"In the last 20 minutes, Hougang were pumping long balls and we showed good character to adapt to that to hang on for the win."

The former national forward is also pleased with the way his team rebounded from their opening 4-0 defeat by Albirex Niigata last month to record two consecutive wins.

He added: "If we want to achieve our goals of a top-half finish and challenge for a place in AFC competitions, it is important to make a good start. Last season, we had just nine points from our first eight games, and now we have six from three. We cannot be satisfied and we have to build on this."

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