Hougang to meet Geylang in Plate final
Bala's men eye silverware after setting up final date with Geylang
HOUGANG UNITED 2
(Fumiya Kogure 45, Iqbal Hussain 80)
BALESTIER KHALSA 1
(Mirolsav Kristic 56)
If they do pull it off, it will not mean they have ended their barren run in terms of silverware, but Hougang United coach K Balagumaran does not care.
He believes that winning The New Paper League Cup Plate competition will give his players a taste of what it is like to win something, and spur them on next season.
Hougang, who have not won a trophy in their six-year history, are one hurdle away from glory after they defeated Balestier Khalsa 2-1 in their Plate semi-final clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
Hougang will square off against Geylang International in the Plate final on Saturday.
Geylang sank Warriors FC 1-0 in the other semi-final yesterday, courtesy of a late strike by Mark Hartmann.
"Just one more step and we can make history," Bala said, after Iqbal Hussain's late strike sent the Cheetahs through.
"I saw more from players like Na'iim (Ishak) and Khairul (Jumahat) today compared to the first game of the tournament and guys like Iqbal (Hussain) have also stepped up.
"This gives me a good selection headache for the final. We performed well and deserved to win today."
Hougang were actually slow to get off the mark in the first half and had to withstand wave after wave of Balestier attacks.
Last year's runners-up could have opened the scoring after just 60 seconds when Raihan Rahman misjudged the flight of a pass, allowing Fadhil Noh to run through on goal, but he could only fire straight at Ridhuan Barudin.
Balestier continued to create chances but were unable to find the back of the net.
The Cheetahs struck a sucker-punch with the last kick of the half.
Japanese playmaker Fumiya Kogure showed why he picked up the S.League Player of the Year award last year with an inch-perfect free-kick near the edge of the penalty box that left Naqiuddin Nodin rooted to his spot.
They nearly doubled their lead after the interval, but were denied when skipper Jozef Kaplan's shot off Naqiuddin's weak punched clearance was blocked spectacularly on the line by Fadli Kamis in the 55th minute.
Hougang were punished seconds later when substitute Hazzuwan Halim lofted in an inviting cross for Miroslav Kristic to guide home.
The 26-year-old almost turned provider in the 72nd minute when his cross found Jamil Ali in the penalty box, but the latter's ferocious shot drew another excellent save from Ridhuan.
It all went downhill for the Tigers from there.
Substitute Gary Loo picked up a facial injury in the 78th minute.
Coach Marko Kraljevic had already used up all three of his substitutes and was forced to carry on with 10 men.
Iqbal, who had been a menace all game with his willingness to take on players, profited two minutes later when he cut inside his defender before rifling home.
Balestier's misery was compounded when Fadli was sent off in the 89th minute for two yellow cards and Hougang hung on for the win.
"I think I should go to church more often," Kraljevic joked, after the match.
"I feel we should have won the game and, after we scored the equaliser, I brought on Jamil (Ali) and Gary (Loo) to try and change the game. But we couldn't do it and the same thing happened to us against Geylang and Home, so I think we were unlucky.
"But we just have to move on and focus on the Singapore Cup and S.League from here."
- HOUGANG: Ridhuan Barudin, Khairulnizam Jumahat, Yusiskandar Yusop, Delwinder Singh, Faliq Sudhir (Nurhilmi Jasni 64), Nur Na'iim Ishak (Huzaifah Aziz 74), Raihan Rahman, Afiq Noor (Samuel Benjamin 86), Fumiya Kogure, Jozef Kaplan, Iqbal Hussain.
- BALESTIER: Naqiuddin Nodin, Fadli Kamis, Nurullah Hussein, Hanafi Salleh, Zulkhair Mustaffa, Syafiq Zainal (Hazzuwan Halim 51), Tan Danial Farhan (Gary Loo 70), Ho Wai Loon, Smajovic Sadin, Fadhil Noh (Jamil Ali 70), Miroslav Kristic.
- TNP Man of the Match: Ridhuan Barudin (Hougang)