Hougang work 'doubly hard' to end winless run

Hougang United caretaker coach Clement Teo has had experience coaxing the best out of youth. He mentored St Gabriel's Secondary from 2000-2016.
Hougang United caretaker coach Clement Teo has had experience coaxing the best out of youth. He mentored St Gabriel's Secondary from 2000-2016.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Balestier Khalsa v Hougang United
Toa Payoh Stadium, 5.30pm

They are the only team without a victory in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) and have been shaken by their coach's sacking, but Hougang United are working "doubly hard" to get that elusive first win when they travel to Balestier Khalsa today.

Philippe Aw was axed a week ago after 10 winless games this season and Hougang remain rooted to the bottom of the nine-team standings with three points, six points adrift of eighth-placed Warriors FC.

To snap out of the rut, caretaker coach Clement Teo believes that the only way to end that dismal run is through sheer hard work.

He said: "No one is guaranteed a first XI place. If the players had been working hard, now they have to work doubly hard. But they understand that they need to put in the effort to get that first win."

The priority for him is to rebuild the players' confidence as they seek to end the demoralising run.

"I have been having lots of talks with the players, telling them what are their strengths and speaking nothing negative," Teo said. "The boys need motivation."

And the bonding extended beyond training hours, as he ate with the Muslim players when they broke fast during Ramadan.

After stints in professional football in different capacities - first as the assistant coach of Woodlands Wellington (2011-2013) and as the team manager of Tampines Rovers (2014-2015) - this will be Teo's debut as head coach of the first team.

But he has experience coaxing the best out of youth, having mentored St Gabriel's Secondary from 2000-2016 and produced national players like Hariss Harun, M. Anumanthan and Hafiz Abu Sujad.

A legacy of Aw's stint was his firm belief in youth - Hougang's squad has an average age of 21.9 years, significantly younger than eighth-placed Warriors (25.4) and second-placed Tampines Rovers (25.5).

Teo intends to keep that faith in the youngsters even if they lack the experience to swim with sharks.

He said: "As long as they are good enough, why not?

"Let's not forget that Fandi (Ahmad) and Hariss (Harun) were already playing for the national team when they were 16. What I am looking for is performance during training."

Even though Hougang have struggled so far, Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic is wary of the Cheetahs in tonight's battle of the big cats at Toa Payoh Stadium.

He said: "Usually, a team will rise again when they change coaches because the players want to impress the new coach.

"Although Hougang have only three points and no wins, it doesn't mean anything. Every game, they have come close to winning and they give their opponents a tough time.

"But I'm happy with my boys, I can see a very good mood during training and they are confident."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 17, 2018, with the headline 'Hougang work 'doubly hard' to end winless run'. Print Edition | Subscribe