Hougang hold defending champions Albirex in gritty draw
|HOUGANG UNITED||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
Hougang United continued their impressive form by holding defending champions Albirex Niigata 0-0 in their opening Group A match of The New Paper League Cup at the Hougang Stadium last night.
This followed their 2-1 win over the S.League leaders on Monday.
Cheetahs coach Philippe Aw stayed true to his belief in the importance of recovery as he made five changes to the starting 11 who had beaten the White Swans four days earlier at the same venue.
But Albirex still could not find a way past the resolute hosts.
With chances at a premium, the closest they came to breaking the deadlock was when Koki Sato grazed the woodwork with a 20-metre rocket in the 23rd minute.
Hougang responded when Pablo Rodriguez stabbed wide two minutes later, but had goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin to thank for denying Hiroyoshi Kamata twice in the space of eight minutes in the second half.
Albirex topscorer Tsubasa Sano had the chance to seal three points in stoppage time, but uncharacteristically dragged a left-footer wide.
While Hougang made it four games without a defeat for their best run of form since a six-match unbeaten streak in 2014, Albirex have gone three games without a win for the first time in 16 months.
Yet, both coaches were pleased with the point that sees them sit joint-second in Group A, two points behind Warriors FC, who came from 3-1 down to beat Home United 4-3.
Aw said: "Albirex are a good team and we knew that after beating them, they would be more determined to beat us.
"The important thing is to progress from this group, and I'm very happy to start with a point against a top team in this tricky group.
"We also managed to blood youngsters like 18-year-old centre back Gerald Ting. He may be inexperienced, but I have no qualms giving him a chance because he has got quality.
"It's very important for us to continue to be stingy and stubborn. The longer we go on like this, the more confident we will be."
Albirex vice-chairman Koh Mui Tee said: "We worked very hard, but couldn't find a breakthrough. On a difficult away ground, we will take this point.
"Hopefully, this is just a blip in a long season and we will bounce back soon."