Written by: Shawn Lim
Balestier Khalsa came from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw with Hougang United on Sunday night at Hougang Stadium.
Yuki Uchiyama opened the scoring for the hosts before substitute Fadhil Noh grabbed the equaliser for Balestier with less than a minute of regulation time left in the match.
The draw meant that the Tigers closed the gap on league leaders Brunei DPMM by just a point and still trail by five points.
The visitors, who secured a 1-0 win in their previous visit to the same ground, came out firing from the first whistle but could not find the net.
Hougang custodian Ridhuan Barudin was required to thwart Zulkiffli Hassim’s thunderous drive less than a minute after kick-off, before the winger smashed a shot just over the crossbar seven minutes later from outside the box.
The nippy winger turned provider in the 11th minute after laying off a short pass to Tarik Cmajcanin just outside the 18-yard box, but the Croatian saw his pile-driver comfortably saved by Ridhuan.
Goalscoring chances was at a premium after that as the two sides committed fouls all over the pitch in a bid to gain supremacy, which disrupted the flow of the game.
Hougang finally registered their first shot on target on the half hour mark when Fazli Jaffar’s cross found Vuk Sotirovic, who sent his header straight into the grateful arms of Zaiful.
The hosts came out after the break re-focused as they searched for the three points that would lift them off the bottom of the table.
The Cheetahs almost succeeded when Nurhilmi Jasni dazzled his way into the 18-yard box from the left flank in the 53rd minute, but the Hougang captain hit a shot onto the roof of the net with Zaiful at full stretch.
Balestier wasted another glorious opportunity to open the scoring when Yusiskandar Yusop tried an ambitious looping shot from 30 yards out after spotting Ridhuan off his line, but the latter recovered in time to catch the ball.
The breakthrough finally arrived for Hougang when Uchiyama rose highest to power home a bullet header from Nurhilmi’s corner to give the Cheetahs the lead in the 73rd minute.
The Cheetahs could have doubled the scoring five minutes later when Fazli fired a first-time effort at goal after receiving Nurhilmi’s cross, but Zaiful pulled off a brilliant point-blank save.
The scoreline looked set to remain in Hougang’s favour as the clock ticked down until Fadhil pounced on a loose ball in the 18-yard box and slammed home the equaliser for the Tigers.
With time running out, the shell-shocked Cheetahs were unable to find a second goal, as referee Nathan Chan called an end to the proceedings.
Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Delwinder Singh, Kunihiro Yamashita, Faiz Salleh, Yuki Uchiyama, Atsushi Shimono, Ruzaini Zainal (Tengku Mushahdad 69’), Fazli Jaffar, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Muhaymin Salim (Carlos Delgado 72’), Vuk Sotirovic
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK) (C), Igor Cerina, Yusiskandar Yusop, Hanafi Salleh, Emir Lotinac, Ridwan Jamil (Daniel Farhan Tan 76’), Tarik Cmajcanin, Ignatius Ang (Fadhil Noh 69’), Zulkiffli Hassim (Hazzuwan Halim 46’), Miroslav Kristic, Robert Pericic