Garena Young Lions 0
Hougang United 2
Stuck at the bottom of the S-League on nine points, the Garena Young Lions look destined to finish their season there for only the third time in their 13-year history, after losing 2-0 to Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
The team, consisting mostly of players aged 23 and below, tasted their fifth straight defeat, even though they took charge of match proceedings early on.
Spearheaded by captain and national team forward Khairul Amri, the Young Lions had more shots on target and forced opposing goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid into making top-draw saves.
Meanwhile, Hougang lacked sharpness up front. Striker Iqbal Hussain spurned two golden chances to put his side ahead as he saw both attempts veer off target.
To make matters worse for the Cheetahs, attacking midfielder Fumiya Kogure was not his usual self. The 2015 S-League Player of the Year could not thread vital passes through to the likes of Iqbal and Stipe Plazibat, and struggled to dictate the tempo.
But right before half-time, Hougang went ahead with a first shot on target, as 23-year-old Iqbal's long- range blast flew into the net.
A disappointed Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse said: "They don't understand that two or three minutes before half-time is a very important moment. You can't make any mistakes in that period."
Indeed, that strike proved to be the wake-up call for Hougang, as they came alive in the second half and dominated play.
It was no surprise then that Hougang scored their second goal in the 71st minute to kill off the game.
A goal mouth scramble in the box saw midfielder Nurhilmi Jasmi sweeping the ball into the net, after the Young Lions defenders could not clear their ranks.
Hesse is not too concerned at the prospect of Young Lions finishing at the bottom of the league, but said: "I want to finish the season with more than nine points. That's the objective we've fixed with our players.
"But it'll be difficult now because we play (Brunei) DPMM next, and then Home United and we finish with Tampines Rovers - tough matches ahead."
The win also sees Hougang move up to fourth place on 31 points and in contention for an AFC Cup qualifying spot.
The top two local teams in the league will qualify for the continental competition next year, and second-placed Tampines Rovers are the only local side above Hougang.
In yesterday's other match, Brunei DPMM maintained third place with a 3-1 home victory over Home United.
DPMM's scorers were Paulo Sergio (37th minute), Rafael Ramazotti (71st, penalty) and Brian McLean (76th), while Ken Ilso (83rd, penalty) replied for Home.