SINGAPORE - Hougang United enhanced their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title credentials and closed the gap with leaders Brunei DPMM to just two points, with an emphatic 4-2 hammering of last year's champions Albirex Niigata on Wednesday night (April 24).
The Cheetahs were the big winners on a busy evening where four SPL fixtures were played, with DPMM and another title hopeful Tampines Rovers, dropping points.
DPMM were held to a goalless draw by the Young Lions in Bandar Seri Begawan. The Bruneian side still sit atop the SPL with 17 points from seven games.
Tampines, meanwhile, dropped points in their fourth consecutive SPL match, after drawing 1-1 with struggling Warriors FC at the Jurong East Stadium.
A first-half brace by forward Faris Ramli set the tone for Hougang at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The 26-year-old opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a clinical finish, before stealing in behind the Albirex defence and coolly slotting home his second in the 29th minute.
A first league goal for rookie midfielder Nikesh Singh in the 56th minute then extended Hougang's lead, before Daizo Horikoshi pulled one back for Albirex in the 68th minute.
But any hope of a White Swans comeback was extinguished just two minutes later, when Shahfiq Ghani restored Hougang's three-goal advantage after finishing off a counter-attack.
An injury-time goal by Yoshikatsu Hiraga was scant consolation for Albirex, who have lost twice in the league this season. The Japanese team went undefeated last term en route to a third straight league championship.
A new SPL rule has meant that for this term, Albirex have to sign at least four Singaporean players, with at least two of them starting and playing the entire first half.
At Jurong East, Warriors picked up their first point of the season after holding Tampines to a 1-1 draw.
Tampines had taken the lead in the 23rd minute through Shahdan Sulaiman's superb freekick, only to be pegged back after Sahil Suhaimi pounced on a goalkeeping mistake to equalise for Warriors, who had lost their first five games of the season.
Tampines, touted as one of the favourites for the title this season, have now drawn three and lost one of their last four SPL games, after winning their first three.
And at the Bishan Stadium, Home United interim coach Noh Rahman got off to a winning start as his side beat Geylang International 3-0.
Australian striker Oliver Puflett scored twice, in the ninth and 42nd minutes, before Adam Swandi turned home the ball from close range in the 58th minute to cap a comfortable victory.
Geylang's Dutch midfielder Barry Maguire was shown the red card in the 82nd minute for a high tackle on Home skipper Izzdin Shafiq, who also curiously received his marching orders two minutes later, after a lengthy conversation with the referee.