Hougang upbeat, despite missing star Kogure
The Cheetahs confident of strong home support to push them on despite the absence of key man Kogure
HOUGANG v HOME UNITED
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
Last December, S.League wooden spoonists Hougang United shocked the local football fraternity when they announced the capture of Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure.
However, the 26-year-old Japanese playmaker will not be making his competitive debut against Home United tonight at the Hougang Stadium as he is out for four to six weeks with a fractured toe in his right leg.
While Hougang coach K Balagumaran bemoaned his star player's bad luck even before a ball has been kicked - the Cheetahs sat out the first round of the nine-team league last week - he was upbeat about how his squad will manage with the loss.
The 51-year-old told The New Paper: "I expect the match to be decided in midfield - whoever dominates the engine room should win the game.
"Home United play a good passing game. With players like Sirina Camara and Faris Ramli, they are strong on the flanks and pack numbers in the attacking third.
"Zulfahmi (Arifin), Azhar (Sairudin) and Song (Ui Yong) will try to provide the penetrative passes from the middle and Ken Ilso is always dangerous.
"We will miss Fumiya's creativity and set-pieces, but we have players like Nur Na'iim (Ishak) and Afiq (Mat Noor) who have been training well, and also tough men like Raihan (Rahman) and Anumanthan (Mohan Kumar)."
With almost a brand new squad, Hougang have been busy in pre-season as they beat amateur side Tiong Bahru (3-1) and the Garena Young Lions (4-2), but lost 2-0 to Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata, 3-2 to Warriors FC and also suffered defeats by Thai sides Suphanburi (2-1) and Air Force Central (3-1).
While they have seen see-saw friendly results, one constant the Cheetahs can count upon is the support from their die-hard fans as they look forward to kick off their season with a bang.
"It's true that we didn't take our chances in pre-season, but we have been creating them and our fans have told us that we are looking like a more entertaining side this season," said Bala.
"We have good finishers like Iqbal (Hussain), Stipe (Plazibat) and (Jozef) Kaplan and it is up to us to prove our doubters wrong. We kick off our season at our home stadium this year and we have already seen and heard of more fans showing up for matches in the first week.
SPECIAL BREED OF FANS
"The Hougang fans are a special breed and we know we can count on them to lift us to good results at the Hougang Stadium this season."
Home United, however, will not be easy meat as they look to bounce back from what they would see as two points dropped last week, after conceding a late equaliser against 10-man Warriors FC to draw 2-2.
While the Protectors impressed in midfield, they traditionally struggle against Hougang United, having won just three of their last 10 matches against the Cheetahs, although they did win their last two encounters with a combined score of 5-0.
Having sat out the first round of fixtures, Hougang central midfielder Raihan is already chomping at the bit to hit the ground running for his new team against some of his former teammates after signing from LionsXII.
The 25-year-old, who could be entrusted set-piece duties along with Plazibat and right back Khairulnizam Jumahat, said: "We are very excited to play in front of our home fans for the first game and we want to prove we can be just as good as the more established teams.
"Home United are a good side but, with quality imports and local players, we have every reason to believe we are just as good a team.
"It's a small football community in Singapore and we know one another but, having played with Zul for a couple of years, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses.
"I know what my job is in the middle of the park and I can assure you tackles will be flying in thick and fast and our opponents will know that they will be in for a hard time."
"The Hougang fans are a specialbreed and we know we can count on them to lift us to good results at the Hougang Stadium this season."
— Hougang coach K Balagumaran