SINGAPORE - Hougang United are bonafide title challengers in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) and they are determined to prove they belong in the championship tussle.
The Cheetahs secured their second win in as many games against last year's runners-up Tampines Rovers with a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 win on Saturday (May 22) at Our Tampines Hub.
Head coach Clement Teo was buoyed by the performance and the character from his charges but downplayed talk of winning the league.
Hougang's highest league finish was third in 2019 and the club have yet to win a major domestic trophy.
Teo said: "To be honest, no one has spoken about it. Not the players and definitely not the staff. What we are doing is to go about our work quietly and work hard to get results like we did today.
"Everyone wants to challenge for the title of course, that's why we are in a competition. But we want to take one match at a time and not talk about titles for now."
The three points moves his side up to third in the eight-team standings on 23 points. Big-spending Lion City Sailors are top with 26 followed by defending champions Albirex Niigata on 24.
Teo said: "Today's win was a result of teamwork. We showed a lot of character after going behind and you saw the great bond of the team today. The boys didn't let complacency (from previous win over Tampines) affect them and were fantastic today."
This time, it was Tampines who took the lead in the 12th minute after good work down the left flank from Armin Bosnjak whose cross was headed in by captain Yasir Hanapi.
The visitors equalised just before half-time through Nazrul Nazari, who tucked in the rebound after goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari had saved Tomoyuki Doi's initial effort.
The match swung in Hougang's favour in the space of minutes after the break. First, Shawal Anuar released Doi for the Japanese forward to score his 14th goal of the season in the 50th minute. Five minutes later, midfielder Idraki Adnan extended that advantage when he slotted into an empty net after Hafiz Sujad's shot was tipped onto the post.
The home side reduced the deficit thanks to Boris Kopitovic's powerful header in the 62nd minute from Bosnjak's cross but Hougang held on for the win.
Despite his disappointment, Tampines head coach Gavin Lee urged patience.
"Football is a journey, there are ups and down. We will judge ourselves at the end of the season and not just from these two matches," said Lee, who will now prepare his side for their Asian Champions League campaign that kicks off next month.
In the evening's other match, the Sailors edged out Young Lions 1-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium thanks to Shahdan Sulaiman's first-half strike.
He's already won one individual award this season when he clinched the league's Player of the month award in March but on current form, Hougang's Doi could well sweep all the major accolades by the end of the season.
The 23-year-old is a constant threat up front and has taken an SPL-leading 57 shots and is the competition's top scorer with 14 goals after just 11 games for his new club,
More than just goals, he leads the line effectively and his hold up play eases the pressure on the Hougang backline when they need an outlet.