SPL : Hougang United deny Lion City Sailors from going joint-top spot, with a 1-1 away draw!
(LCS' Stipe Plazibat scores - Photo by Lion City Sailors FC)
By Sadat Osman
Singapore Premier League (SPL) title-contenders Lion City Sailors (LCS) and Hougang United FC (HGFC) played out a 1-1 draw at the Jalan Besar Stadium (JBS) on Friday night (27 Aug,). It was a thrilling encounter that saw the home side register 25 shots at goal to score only once, while the visitors managed to find the net with their only shot on target.
The Cheetahs came into this tie having won 3-1 in the reverse fixture back in March — dealing the Sailors their only defeat in 15 games this season — and they were confident from the first whistle as they set out to keep themselves in the title race.
As the match grew on however, the home side (LCS) created several more chances, playing the ball confidently at the edge of the HGFC box. However, the visitors had the means to pack their backline to prevent the attacking prowess of Stipe Plazibat, Faris Ramli and Saifullah Akbar.
While the Cheetahs defended well, they were not able to hold onto the ball whenever they regained possession, owing to the Sailors’ aggression to press high and launch turnovers relentlessly. Despite their efforts, LCS Coach Kim Do-hoon’s men were not able to break the deadlock — neither side had a clear-cut opportunity to test the goalkeepers at either end of the pitch in the first half.
The second half saw a host of changes for both teams. But it was Hougang who made an impact first by holding the ball more confidently after they reorganised and changed their shape, stretching the Sailors by employing wingers to hug the touchline.
(HGFC celebrate opening goal - Photo by Football Assn of S'pore)
6 minutes into the second half, the visitors grabbed the opener against the run of play. Off a freekick taken by Kaishu Yamazaki, Anders Aplin beat his marker in the penalty area to meet the ball with an unstoppable header to put his side ahead 1-0. While he looked offside, the linesman kept his flag down.
At this point, the home side were desperate, introducing Diego Lopes to add a little more bite into their attack. The pressure was constantly on HGFC with the Sailors throwing everything, except the kitchen sink in search of the equaliser.
(Lion City Sailors celebrate equalising goal - Photo by Football Assn of S'pore)
In the 75th minute though, the Sailors’ efforts finally paid off. Substitute Hafiz Nor found himself room to plunge forward on the righthand side. He beat 2 defenders before launching a cross towards the six-yard box. Plazibat made a run to find acres of space and directed a powerful header past Izwan Mahbud for his 14th goal of the season.
The Sailors, now, had much more wind in their sails and were on the hunt for the matchwinner. They even sent Jorge Fellipe to help Lopes find the elusive goal in the final stages of the game, but to no avail. HGFC had flashes of chances of their own too, via Tomoyuki Doi and Shawal Anuar, but they all amounted to nothing.
The visitors had a big scare in stoppage time, but Izwan’s reflexes were called into action to deny LCS before Nazrul Nazari was on hand to deliver a stunning goal-line clearance to help the Cheetahs claim a hard-earned point.
The 1-1 stalemate sees the Sailors stay in 2nd place with 35 points, and they trailer leaders Albirex by 2. As for the Cheetahs, they remain 3rd with 30 points. And following the upcoming international break, the Sailors will face Young Lions in the Jalan Besar derby on 12 September. And HGFC will host Tampines Rovers FC a day earlier on their home turf.
Sadat Osman had a 10-year career in the publication industry, where he covered several beats including current affairs, food, fishing, music, and football. As the former chief editor at Goal.com and a fan of Newcastle United FC since 1996, Sadat also had a trial as a goalkeeper at Tanjong Pagar United FC. But today he remains a frequent social player of the game, who fancies Lionel Messi. However, Sadat's playing style is unfortunately similar to that of Titus Bramble!