Young Lions beaten but impress new coach
Raab's men go down but German coach satisfied with the performance
COURTS YOUNG LIONS 1
(Adam Swandi 70)
HOUGANG UNITED 3
(Delwinder Singh 10, Kunihiro Yamashita 19, Fairoz Hasan 90+3)
It looked like the perfect opportunity to begin the climb back up after the Singapore Under-23's disastrous campaign at the South-east Asia Games here last month.
Their opponents, Hougang United, were second from bottom in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League standings and had not beaten them since May 2013.
But, in the end, the Courts Young Lions - the majority of the team's players were in the U-23 squad - failed to overcome a slow start and ultimately succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to the Cheetahs last night as the second half of the 2015 S.League season got underway at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
At least there were some positives for the team in what was Juergen Raab's first match in charge after taking over from Aide Iskandar, as the Young Lions enjoyed plenty of possession and did seem determined to employ an attractive pass-and-move game.
While plenty of work still has to be done if the Young Lions are to climb off the foot of the table, their new German coach believes there is plenty to be optimistic about.
"This performance gives me reason to be very confident," he said.
"For 90 minutes, we played good football with build-up and possession. I think we created seven or eight clear chances but, in football, you have to score if you are to deserve the win.
"The team showed good morale and willpower from the first minute and I was hoping we could equalise after pulling one back, but we weren't able to convert our chances and that's the only downside."
Raab admitted his players needed to learn not to lose concentration at set-pieces, which allowed their opponents to claim a 2-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes.
First, former Young Lions man Delwinder Singh climbed high inside the area to meet Carlos Delgado's free-kick in the 10th minute and nod the ball past a stranded Syazwan Buhari.
The same routine worked again for Hougang nine minutes later as another excellent delivery by Delgado found Kunihiro Yamashita, who powered a header into the back of the net.
The hosts created their fair share of chances and, after returning foreign duo Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri both missed gilt-edged opportunities, they did pull one back in the 70th minute.
A piece of individual brilliance by Adam Swandi saw him nip in ahead of Nurhilmi Jasni to win possession and skip inside Yuki Uchiyama, before curling a sublime shot into the far corner.
Just as Raab's youngsters pushed forward in search of the equaliser, the Cheetahs sealed the win in injury-time when Fairoz Hasan beat the offside trap and skipped past the onrushing Syazwan before slotting home.
Although it could have been a far more comfortable win for his team, Hougang coach Salim Moin was pleased with the way his players carried out the game plan.
"We came for this match prepared for two different game situations," he said.
"In the first half, we wanted to get a goal as early as possible and managed to score twice through well-taken set-pieces.
"We then knew the Young Lions would be coming at us in the second half, so I told the players to be more compact and I think we did well with our focus in defending the lead."
- TNP Man of the Match:
Atsushi Shimono (Hougang United)
- COURTS YOUNG LIONS: Syazwan Buhari, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Amirul Adli, Farhan Rahmat (Faris Azienuddin 73), M Anumanthan, Afiq noor (Suria Prakash 66), Adam Swandi, Jordan Webb, Sherif El-Masri (Shameer Aziq 66), Amy Recha.
- HOUGANG UNITED: Ridhuan Barudin, Yuki Uchiyama, tengku Mushadad, Kunihiro Yamashita, Delwinder Singh, nurhilmi Jasni (taufiq Ghani 90), Carlos Delgado, Atsushi Shimono, Fazli Jaffar, Fareez Farhan (Muhaymin Salim 72), Diego Gama (Fairoz Hasan 64).