News Singapore Premier League • July 4, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Hougang lie in ambush for Albirex


Nazrul Nazari is a key attacker for Hougang United FC.

SINGAPORE, 4 JULY 2018Being the last team to defeat Albirex Niigata FC (S) a year ago, Hougang United FC are hopeful of pulling off another upset when they host the White Swans at Hougang Stadium on Wednesday night, 4 July. The Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) match will kick off at 7.45pm.

BACKGROUND On paper, it seems like a foregone conclusion.

Albirex have a 100 per cent record of 13 wins, the best attack with 42 goals, the best defence with just seven goals conceded and are 11 points clear at the top of the league.

Meanwhile, Hougang have won just once in 13 outings, possess the worst attack with a paltry nine goals, have kept just one clean sheet all season and are four points adrift at the bottom.

However, history has shown that an upset is possible. Almost a year ago, a Philippe Aw-inspired Hougang side stunned the local football fraternity with a 2-1 win over the White Swans at Hougang Stadium despite resting several key players.

Albirex have since gone on an incredible 34-game unbeaten run, which includes a current 20-game winning streak. But along the way, Hougang have proved to be a tough nut to crack for them.

Four days after that 2-1 upset in July 2017, the Cheetahs followed up with a gritty 0-0 draw at the same venue in the League Cup group stages.

Three months later, it required an 80th-minute goal to divide the sides at Jurong East Stadium. It was the same story in the first head-to-head in 2018, with Kenya Takahashi’s 75th-minute free kick settling another tense affair.

No wonder Clement Teo, who has since succeeded Aw in the Hougang coaching hot seat, is feeling confident of upsetting the odds on Wednesday night.

“Look – the ball is round. We had something like four key players not even in the squad that time but we still managed to beat them 2-1,” he recalled.

“Maybe for Albirex, all good things will come to an end. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re waiting for them to come. If we are going into games thinking of ‘let’s just reduce the score line’, we might as well not participate or play against them.”

In the Albirex camp, they are also not taking another victory for granted as they continue their stride to a third straight league title.

“From the 1-0 loss earlier in the season, we’ve learnt that there no easy games in the SPL,” said Captain Wataru Murofushi.

“We have to fight hard and follow Coach’s (Kazuaki Yoshinaga) instructions to get every three points that are available.”

Hougang will miss the services of forward Shahfiq Ghani for a fourth straight match as he recovers from an ankle injury, while South Korean attacker Chang Jo-Yoon remains on trial and has yet to put pen to paper.

Albirex will continue to miss out on centre-back Shun Kumagai as he continues to recover from a knee meniscus tear, but Singaporean playmaker Adam Swandi is now fully fit and could be in line for his first start in one and a half months.

First-choice goalkeeper Yohsuke Nozawa was away in Niigata over the weekend to participate in a testimonial game for Albirex (Japan) legend Isao Homma in front of 15,299 supporters at Denka Big Swan Stadium, but has returned to Singapore on Monday and will be available for the game.

Hougang: LLWDL
Albirex: WWWWW

06/05/18: Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
19/10/17: Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
07/07/17: Hougang 0-0 Albirex – League Cup
03/07/17: Hougang 2-1 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
14/04/17: Albirex 2-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League

Nazrul Nazari – Hougang
Left on the bench against Home United FC in their last match, Nazrul should be well rested for this. The 27-year-old’s pace and tenacity down the right flank will come in handy as he looks to get one over Albirex left-back Kenya Takahashi.  In the earlier meeting this season, the latter went on to score the winning goal after his jab on the former in an off-the-ball incident went unpunished.

Taku Morinaga – Albirex
With club chairman Daisuke Korenaga setting a 20-goal target for him before the start of the season, Morinaga is still 13 short of hitting the mark. The 23-year-old will surely be relishing the opportunity to notch a couple against a Hougang defence that has not been exactly water-tight.

Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Teo:
“There were instances when we were short at the back (in the 1-0 defeat to Homeon Sunday), but you have to give credit to the boys for giving their best. When you lose, heads naturally go down. But let’s move on – when you spill milk, you clean it up.

“Albirex are the runaway leaders, but let’s go out there and try to compete with them. I believe in minds over bodies. Who knows if we might beat them?”

Albirex Captain Murofushi: “We have improved overall as a team and as individuals. However, we have to improve further to be better players and to be a better team. Conceding three goals (in the 4-3 win over Tampines Rovers FC) was a hard lesson learnt and we’ve focused on minimising the goals conceded (with four straight clean sheets thereafter).

“It’s good to have Adam back with us as he’s another important player for the team.  For myself, I have six goals now and I feel confident that I can hit double figures by the end of the season.”

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