Hougang primed for happy ending
Cheetahs have a winning feeling on and off the pitch
HOUGANG v BALESTIER KHALSA
(Tomorrow, Hougang Stadium)
The club are making strides on the pitch and change is in the air at the Hougang Stadium.
With four games to go in the 2016 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, Hougang United are in pole position to finish in the top half and qualify for the AFC Cup, both for the first time.
The Cheetahs are three points ahead of nearest rivals Home United and most expect them to collect all three points when they entertain second-from-bottom Balestier Khalsa tomorrow.
"This could be the biggest month in the club's history," said Hougang coach K Balagumaran.
"For us to be in this position, the team have done very well. It is a tough league and we have just assembled the players together for the first year."
Perhaps in a reflection of the team's fortunes improving on the pitch, the club are also making improvements at their stadium.
Hougang have already installed leather bucket seats in the two dugouts. They have also acquired the Globus EuroGoal ball shooting machine which can deliver shots up to 140kmh or crosses with different trajectories and any desired spin effect.
The Globus EuroGoal ball shooting machine. PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOUGANG UNITED
In the pipeline are plans to refurbish the dressing rooms to include bucket seats and a jacuzzi for the home team, while four containers will be converted into a meeting room and a recreation room, all with approval by Sport Singapore.
Hougang are believed to be the first S.League club to make such large-scale improvements to their home stadium and there's a genuine feel that the team are going places.
"Here we are challenging for an AFC Cup spot," said Balagumaran.
"But we are not there yet. We need to still put in a lot of hard work and luck also plays a part."
Balagumaran knows better than to underestimate Balestier. After all, it wasn't so long ago that the Tigers were the underdogs who performed above themselves and won the RHB Singapore Cup in 2014, playing in the AFC Cup over the last two seasons.
He said: "Balestier are a team of fighters. Even though they will not be at full strength due to injuries and suspensions, they don't give up easily.
"Marko (Kraljevic) and his team have inspired me over the past few seasons because they have shown that a limited team can also achieve great things, win silverware and qualify for the AFC Cup.
TEAM COME FIRST
"If we keep our team together, the prospects of silverware look promising for the next two years."
One player to benefit from the Cheetahs' unlikely rise is 22-year-old midfielder Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, who turned down a move to the Garena Young Lions to reunite with his former National Football Academy coach at Hougang.
He said: "I have made the right choice to choose Hougang over the Young Lions as they are a good club for me to develop as a footballer.
"There is strong team spirit, a winning mentality and a coaching team who know how to deal with players.
"We always have the mentality of going into every game to win it.
"Our strength is we don't have any star players, we are all level-headed players who just want to work and achieve something for the team and not for any individual.
"To finish in the top half and qualify for the AFC Cup would be a huge milestone for a club who have always been underdogs.
"It's at the back of our minds, but with four games to go, we want to live in the moment and take one game at a time."
Our strength is we don’t have any star players, we are all level-headed players who just want to work and achieve something for the team and not for any individual. To finish in the top half and qualify for the AFC Cup would be a huge milestone for a club who have always been underdogs.
— Hougang midfielder Anumanthan Mohan Kumar