With Gary Robbat and Fandi Othman ruled out through injuries coupled with national call ups for Mahalli Jasuli, Fadhli Shas, Wan Zack Haikal and Ahmad Hazwan, Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee had only 15 players including two goalkeepers available for selection against Hougang United on Friday evening. The depleted Harimau Muda battled to a 3-1 win over the Cheetahs at the Yishun Stadium despite the problems that they faced.
There was some comfort for Harimau Muda though, as Hougang United’s top scorer Jordan Webb was left on the bench for unknown reasons.
“I have been facing this problem since last year, whenever my players get called up to the National Team. What we have to do is to stay positive before the match and they boys will talk to each other.” Ong Kim Swee told aXrosstheline.com
Hougang United dominated the proceedings in the opening minutes, with the first chance coming as early as the second minute, when Ante Barac’s freekick was headed over by Stansislav Vidakovic.
Harimau Muda had their chances but Nazirul Naim and D Saarvindran skied their efforts in the seventh and 10th minute. In the 11th minute, The Malaysians conceded their first corner in more than 190 minutes of football played, but the resulting corner was eventually cleared after some “pin ball” action in the 18 yards box.
Hougang were pressing the Young Tigers very effectively, which resulted in many perfectly timed tackles by the Cheetahs. However, Harimau Muda went 1-0 up against the run of play in the 20th minute.
Thamil Arasu sent Fadhil Salim the wrong way with his spot kick after Fazli Jaffar handled the ball off a cross from Nazmi Faiz. This was only the second time in Harimau Muda’s last six matches that they had taken the lead.
Hougang best chance came in the 29th minute but Sobrie Mazelan could only get his shot straight at Izham Tarmizi after being put through cleanly by his team mate.
Captain Affize Faisal put his team 2-0 up in the 39th minute when his freekick from a Faizal Amir’s foul on the edge of the box dipped over the defence into the bottom right corner beyond Fadhil’s reach.
Jordan Webb was brought on just before halftime to add some bite into Hougang’s attack and he repaid the coach’s faith in the four minutes after the break when he side footed Mamadou Diallo’s pass into an open goal.
Webb had chances to pull his team level but he could only shoot over from eight yards out in the 63rd minute and Izham saved right at his feet in the 67th minute.
The towering Stansislav Vidakovic was stretchered off with what seemed to be a serious injury in the 74th minute, which was definitely a setback for Hougang to lose one of their “twin towers”.
There were confusion for a moment when Harimau Muda’s players decided not to send the ball out when Syawan Tajudin was left injured just outside their own penalty area. The Hougang players reciprocated and played on after regaining control of the ball.
Syazwan finally received medical attention after Affize cleared the ball out for a throw in. Harimau Muda reserve goalkeeper, Farhan Abu Bakar nearly made his S-League debut (as an outfield player though) but it was deemed unnecessary to make a change later.
Affize finally put the game beyond Hougang’s reach in the 90 th minute, when he side footed a Syahrul Azwari pass in the box into goal off a Nazmi’s cross for his second and his team’s third of the night.
The relief of a hard fought win could be seen on the faces of the Malaysians with the celebration at the bench after the game.
Hougang United coach, Nenad Bacina first words after the game probably summed up their season so far “Tough Luck!” Catch what else he has to say in our post-match interview below:
Harimau Muda (3 on target, 6 off target)
Hougang (7 on target, 4 off target)
Harimau Muda 4
Harimau Muda 15
Harimau Muda 4