Singapore Football

Hougang looking to end barren spell

Hougang confident they can end barren spell with the return of Iqbal and the resurgence of Spaniard Rodriguez

TAMPINES ROVERS HOUGANG UNITED

It has been 313 minutes since Hougang United last scored in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League.

But, as they prepare to take on Tampines Rovers at Our Tampines Hub tomorrow night, Cheetahs coach Philippe Aw is confident that his side can end their barren streak in front of goal.

There are two reasons for the 39-year-old coach's confidence: the return of national forward Iqbal Hussain, and the resurgence of Spanish import Pablo Rodriguez.

The two strikers offer Aw a chance to tweak the current system he uses - with either Azhar Sairudin or Fumiya Kogure, both attacking midfielders, leading the line as a false No. 9, a role performed by Brazilian Roberto Firmino for Liverpool.

With more options at his disposal, Aw is confident the team can improve on their scoring record this season - they have scored just 14 goals in 15 S.League games this season.

Said the coach: "In the first half of the season, we had lots of problems with our attackers.

"Pablo was still finding his feet in the S.League, Iqbal had to stop training after a while because of National Service, and Fareez (Farhan) was injured.

"In many games, we created chances, but did not have the poacher to finish them off."

But now, the situation has changed.

Iqbal completed his National Service last month, and is pushing for his first start.

And targetman Rodriguez, who has started just six times in the S.League, coming off the bench another three times, is in good form.

The 36-year-old scored three times over two legs in Hougang's 8-1 RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final win over Cambodia's Nagaworld last month.

The Valencia youth product, who played alongside David Silva and Raul Albiol in Los Che's youth team, admitted that his season has not gone as expected, but he is ready to fight for his place in Hougang's starting XI.

"It's the first time in my life as a football player I have not played all the time," said the 1.90m-tall player, who has scored just once in the S.League.

"But it is not my decision, it is the coach's, and I respect him.

"At the moment, all I can do is continue to work hard.

"Right now, I'm playing more than before and scoring goals.

"And I hope I can continue to do that from now until the end of the season."

Even though Rodriguez has not been an automatic choice for Aw, the coach counts him as a useful option to have.

Said Aw: "We could have brought in someone else in the mid-season transfer window, but we would not have known if that player could settle before the end of the season.

"And we knew Pablo has certain strengths that he offers us - mainly his aerial ability.

"When we beat (league leaders) Albirex Niigata 2-1 here in July, they struggled with him the whole game.

"So I'm glad for him that he's back in the team and scoring goals."

Iqbal is also chomping at the bit to make up for lost time.

"When I was in NS, there was a period of time I could not train or play for four straight months," he said.

"Now I get the chance to train every day, I hope I can achieve the performances I had last year and, hopefully, earn another national team call-up.

"I'm just eager to get back on the pitch and play."

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