Azhar hoping for late surge of form
Just 18 months ago, Azhar Sairudin was touted as the best local player in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League.
The attacking midfielder's scintillating partnership with Danish striker Ken Ilso powered Home United's title challenge, and he duly earned his first call-up to the national team at the ripe old age of 29.
When Philippe Aw took the reins of Hougang United at the start of 2017, he lured Azhar to join him.
Azhar was to be the player Aw would build his team around.
However, the playmaker has struggled to rediscover the form that made him such a joy to watch, only showing flashes of what he can do and scoring only twice this season.
Azhar admitted he had fallen short of his own expectations.
Asked if he feels his displays this season have been good enough, his reply was a straightforward "no".
He said: "Comparing last season to this one, I think there is a big difference in my level of performance and playing style.
"Also, I feel I have not been consistent enough."
Azhar said one reason for his slump could be his inability to click with his Hougang teammates as well as he did with his former ones at Home.
Aw, who managed to coax him into playing the best football of his career when he was his coach at Home, offered the same explanation.
He said he had originally planned to pair Azhar and Ilso together at Hougang, as the Dane was close to joining the Cheetahs.
But a lucrative offer by Kedah FA arrived from across the Causeway, and Ilso waved goodbye to the S.League, after scoring 30 goals in 41 S.League games in 2015 and 2016.
He has continued his prolific scoring form in Malaysia, where he has bagged 20 goals in 25 matches in the Malaysian Super League and Malaysian FA Cup.
Said Aw: "Ken Ilso is a tremendous player.
"I wanted to bring him here as well, because I know how good he is, but the offer from Malaysia was a very good one.
"This season, we have paired Azhar and Fumiya (Kogure) together up front, and while we've created many chances, we lack a No. 9 (main striker) to finish them off."
Even though Hougang no longer have hope of winning silverware this term - they lost their RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals to Philippine side Global FC two weeks ago - Azhar is determined to help his side finish strongly.
He said: "I hope the team can win our last four games, and fight for fourth spot."