Hougang United look for season-end flourish
Struggling Hougang hope to improve after poor run in S.League and cup exit
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||HOUGANG UNITED|
They turned heads in pre-season, when they held their season launch at the rooftop bar of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, with their players decked out in spiffy tailored suits.
But Hougang United's results in this Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League season have been far less attractive.
As the Cheetahs prepare to visit league leaders Albirex Niigata at the Jurong East Stadium tonight, they find themselves in sixth place in the nine-team league, with four games left.
Hougang have lost five of their last eight S.League matches - beating only Garena Young Lions and Brunei DPMM during the spell, the two sides that prop up the table.
Hougang coach Philippe Aw admits the season has not been easy.
"We could do better in terms of results," said the 40-year-old.
"There have been times this season where we simply just gave the game away.
"In many games, we had good chances to score, didn't put it away, then allowed the opponent to go up the other end and score.
"So many people have told me, 'Your team play good football, but never score'. That has been the story of our season."
In 20 games this season, Hougang have scored just 22 goals.
They did not manage to adequately replace 15-goal Stipe Plazibat, their top scorer last season who moved to Home United.
The Croat has been on fire this term for the Protectors, and leads the S.League scoring chart with 21 goals.
His successor at Hougang, Spaniard Pablo Rodriguez, has struggled to cement a starting berth, featuring in only 12 games and scoring just twice.
He is one of six Cheetahs players who have scored two goals this season. Only winger Fareez Farhan (four) and playmaker Fumiya Kogure (seven) have scored more.
Besides a profligate attack, Aw also pointed to the fixture scheduling as a reason his side struggled for consistency.
He said: "What we have done a lot this year is utilise every player in the squad, sometimes to good effect, sometimes not so much.
"Of course, as a coach, I want consistency in the team and to have the same 11 playing together as much as possible.
"But in our local competitions, it's very difficult, because of the way the fixtures are done.
"You'll have five games in 15 days, then no games for three weeks, then three matches in one week."
Aw had announced in pre-season that he was hoping to win the club's first piece of silverware by lifting either The New Paper League Cup or RHB Singapore Cup.
But they were eliminated from the TNP League Cup at the group stage after drawing all three games and were beaten 4-3 on aggregate by Philippine side Global FC in the Singapore Cup semi-finals two weeks ago.
Hougang could yet climb up to fourth by the time the season ends on Nov 18.
That would better their best showing of sixth, which they achieved last season under K Balagumaran.
Aw, however, acknowledges his side will have their work cut out in tonight's clash with Albirex, who are eyeing a 27th straight victory on their home ground's artificial turf.
But Hougang have pulled off an upset over Albirex before, when they won 2-1 in an S.League meeting at the Hougang Stadium in July, and Aw is not ruling out the chance of a repeat.
"If you talk about motivation and focus, the Japanese boys have something really big to aim for, since they are going for the title," said the coach.
"It's going to be tough for us at Jurong East especially and, without a doubt, we head into the game as big underdogs.
"But football is a funny game, and nobody expected us to beat them here (in July), when we sent out our reserve side. So let's see."