Home not taking Hougang lightly
High-flying Protectors wary of Cheetahs despite their slump
RHB SINGAPORE CUP
HOME UTD v HOUGANG UTD
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Bishan Stadium)
What a difference five weeks can make.
Last month, Home United had won just two of their eight S.League games, and critics were already labelling them as also-rans.
Hougang United, meanwhile, were hailed as Singapore's version of Leicester City after winning five of their first eight matches to sit atop the table.
Since then, however, the two teams have swopped places.
Hougang have gone four games without a win and have slipped down to sixth in the nine-team S.League.
Home, meanwhile, have strung together a four-match winning streak; including a recent 2-1 triumph over star-studded Tampines Rovers and a 5-0 thumping of last year's champions Brunei DPMM.
They are now third in the S.League standings and their recent form suggests they are firm favourites for tonight's RHB Singapore Cup clash with the struggling Cheetahs.
And Hougang coach K Balagumaran admits his side are the underdogs.
"From Day One, I've said Home are a very good team," said the 51-year-old coach.
"They have some really good players, they play some good football, and now they're gelling and picking up form."
The form book is not the only thing going against Hougang for tonight's game.
The flu bug has also recently affected a handful of Bala's players, including captain Jozef Kaplan.
And his most experienced defender, Yusiskandar Yusop, has barely trained because of reservist commitments.
"The only thing going for me is I will have M Anumanthan back from suspension, and he will partner Raihan (Rahman) in midfield again, like how we stopped (Home United) in the first game (a 1-0 win for Hougang in February)," said Bala.
The spotlight tonight will fall on Home's star Danish striker Ken Ilso, who has scored eight goals in his last eight games.
Bala singled out another dangerman his side have to keep an eye on.
"For me, the biggest threat is Azhar (Sairudin, attacking midfielder)," said the former LionsXII assistant coach.
"He's playing the best football of his career. He pulls the strings and is very hard to mark off the ball. He makes the team click.
"If we can stop him, we can stop Ken Ilso, Faris (Ramli)... the rest of the team."
Home coach Philippe Aw, meanwhile, warned his high-flying side against complacency.
"In a cup competition, there are always big upsets. With our form, I can see why we are considered favourites... we've won four games and we're playing good football.
"But one thing clear about Hougang this year is that they are fighters.
"They fought back to draw with Tampines with just 10 men, and came back from two goals down against DPMM to level the score to 2-2 in Brunei, and that says something.
"So we're not taking things for granted."
One thing clear about Hougang this year is that they are fighters. So we're not taking things for granted.
— Home United coach Philippe Aw