League Cup • July 9, 2014
Cup Holders In Danger Of Early Exit
Written By: Kenneth Ho
Hougang United earned a 3-0 victory over Balestier Khalsa in the StarHub League Cup 2014 Group D opening match on Tuesday evening at Toa Payoh stadium.
Geison Moura opened the scoring for the Cheetahs before Faiz Salleh and Diego Gama each struck once before the end of the game to add gloss to the score line.
Reigning cup holders Balestier will now have their work cut out for them as they have to secure maximum points against Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League leaders Brunei DPMM in the next group game to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
The game was a tight affair despite the three-goal margin victory enjoyed by the Cheetahs, but Hougang did enjoy the better of the first half as they dominated the opening exchanges.
As soon as the game started, Moura already found himself with a chance after his striking partner Gama played him in with a through pass but Balestier defender Nurullah Hussein was at hand to charge down the striker’s shot.
Nurhilmi Jasni came close minutes later when his punt from the edge of the box was deflected by Tajeli Selamat but it barely cleared the bar to the relief of Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
Zaiful then had to be alert to tip away a curling free kick from Gama in the 13th minute as Hougang continued to knock on the doors of the Balestier goal.
Balestier on the other hand were struggling to make inroads towards the Hougang goal, as a well-marshalled Hougang defence snuffed out any dangerous crosses or passes which tried to make its way past them.
After Gama came close again with a ferocious shot which Zaiful stood firm to smother in the 20th minute, Balestier finally managed to create their first shot at goal, and it took a great save from Hougang skipper Fadhil Salim to keep the ball out.
From a Zulkiffli Hassim cross, Goran Ljubojevic rose the highest steer a thumping header towards goal but an instinctive save by the Hougang custodian saw the ball being saved with his feet.
That was the only notable chance Hougang allowed as they returned to dominating proceedings and probing around Balestier’s defence.
Their efforts soon paid off as a well-worked move saw Azhar Sairudin putting in a cross from the right for Moura to rifle in a drive beyond Zaiful in the 33rd minute.
Balestier left-back Syed Thaha then saw his 25-yard free kick go wide of the post before the half came to an end.
Balestier came out after the restart a more compact unit but they were still struggling to break down Hougang’s defence. As such, chances were at a premium in the second half.
After a series of attacking moves broke down at the final third for both teams, Hougang finally managed to breach Balestier’s backline again in the 55th minute although it did not result in a goal.
Nurhilmi swung in a cross into the box for Fazli Jaffar and the unmarked winger was able to direct his effort from eight yards out at goal but Zaiful did brilliantly keep the ball out.
Azhar then had an attempt from distance before Gama glanced a header towards goal but on both occasions it was easy for the Balestier goalkeeper to gather the ball.
With this being Balestier’s fifth game in the span of 18 days, it seemed that the amount of games took its toll on the players as they begun to tire late on in the game and opened up.
Faiz made a late appearance in the 87th minute after coming on for Moura and the fresh legs of his saw him making an instant impact as his first touch of the game was to knock in a Shunsuke Nakatake free kick to kill off Balestier’s chances of getting a result.
The substitute then helped put the icing on the cake when he latched onto a long pass by Lau Meng Meng and cut the ball back for Gama to slot home the third goal deep into injury time.