Hougang fight back to stun leaders Albirex
Cheetahs' fighting spirit impresses coach Aw
|HOUGANG UNITED||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
|(Ryota Nakai 10-pen)|
The relief on Hougang United coach Philippe Aw was palpable as the referee blew the final whistle at last night's thrilling Great Eastern-Hyundai S. League clash at the Hougang Stadium.
Few had expected Hougang to upset the odds, but the Cheetahs did just that, beating league leaders Albirex Niigata 2-1 to continue their surge in form.
The victory capped a dream fortnight for Aw, whose side had edged out Ceres Negros 1-0 in the RHB Singapore Cup two weeks ago and stunned high-flying Home United 3-2 last week.
Aw had to endure nervy final moments yesterday as they held on to their slender one-goal lead, but he was also impressed by his charges' resilience.
He said: "It was a tough last 10 minutes. We were on the rocks and Albirex were coming at us relentlessly, but thankfully we held on.
"The fighting spirit was evident. People said we were going to lose, especially when we put out a reserve side today.
"When we look at the big picture of having five games in 14 days, there is no point in putting the first 11 through two tough games (against Home United and Albirex).
"Nobody talks about resting or recovery. We are not robots, we need to rest and recover. I need the players to be fresh and ready, and to give everyone a chance to play.
"All of us wanted to show something, to pull off something great. With this win, we believe that if we work, nothing is impossible.
"We wanted to show what we had it within ourselves."
Aw was earlier referring to his side's schedule of five matches between last Friday and July 13.
But, even with first-choice players such as Nazrul Nazari, Fumiya Kogure, and Khairulhin Khalid missing from yesterday's starting line-up, Hougang looked in excellent shape.
The first half was an intense affair, as both teams tried to wrest the initiative.
Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin had to keep out Ryota Nakai's effort in as early as the second minute, while Hougang's Pablo Rodriguez saw a shot go over the bar soon after.
It was the White Swans who drew first blood, though.
Hougang's Atsushi Shirota fouled Nakai in the penalty box to concede a penalty, which the latter converted.
At this point, it looked like it was going according to script, but Hougang had other ideas.
Rodriguez headed home Zulfahmi Arifin's cross in the 26th minute to draw the hosts level.
Then three minutes into the second half, Fairoz Hasan somehow shook off the attention of three Albirex defenders to sneak an effort into the net.
Albirex attempted a comeback, but found Hougang simply too tough to overcome.
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, whose team have now lost twice in a row, rued the carelessness of his side.
He said: "It is not good for the morale of my players after a second loss and we have to go back and analyse why we lost this match, and the things that we need to improve on.
"We need to cut down on individual mistakes and be more careful in future games."