SINGAPORE - Hougang's dead-eye over the deadball Zulfahmi Arifin proved the difference as the Cheetahs romped to a 4-1 win over Geylang International at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday (April 20) to climb up to second in the nine-team Singapore Premier League (SPL).
The Hougang skipper provided assists for Jordan Vestering (7th minute) and Afiq Yunos (67th), from a corner kick and free kick respectively, with Amir Zalani (55th) and Fazrul Nawaz (83rd) scoring the home side's other goals.
A header by Geylang's Dutch midfielder Barry Maguire in the 49th minute had given the Eagles hope for a fightback but proved mere consolation.
Geylang coach Noor Ali said the difference in quality between the two sides - half of Hougang's 18-man matchday squad have earned Singapore caps, compared to only four from Geylang's - was telling.
"We had our chances, but at the end of the day quality is what counts," said the 43-year-old coach.
"They don't pay Zulfahmi (well) for no reason, and his delivery of the ball was something we found very hard to contain."
Zulfahmi, 27, recently scored his first international goal for Singapore, curling home a fine free kick from 25 metres in the 1-1 draw with Oman on March 23.
Aside from his pin-point deliveries at Jalan Besar on Saturday, Zulfahmi also provided a calming influence to the Hougang backline, playing in the centre of a five-man defence, before moving into a midfield role in the second half.
Hougang coach Clement Teo, however, felt his skipper did not play to his best.
"I've known Zul since he was 16 and this boy has got tremendous talent," said the coach.
"But, as far as I am concerned, there were phases of the game where he should have done better."
Despite seeing his team leapfrog Tampines Rovers into second place in the league for at least 24 hours - the Stags play Balestier Khalsa on Sunday - Teo believes his charges still have much room for improvement.
He said: "Credit to the players, they have shown they are able to play, and fight for each other as a team.
"But it's only the sixth game, and the team have got a lot of potential, but we need to take it one game at a time. We can't think that now we're already (second), we're doing good enough."