Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sleague 2012 kicksoff: Hougang Utd vs Tanjong Pajar Utd

The opening night of the 2012 season brought the Jaguars of Tanjong Pajar to the Cheetah’s den of Hougang United.

With last season’s heart-stopping 4-3 thriller still in the back of many fans’ mind, they could be forgiven for expecting something similar in this “catfight”.

But in the end, the storyline was of the home side dominating large parts of the game but unable to grab a winner as the away side put up a valiant display to secure a 1-1 draw.

To be fair, the Jaguars always look threatening whenever they broke for counter-attacks, led by their East Asian foreign trio.

It consisted of the team’s top scorer of last season - Takaya Kawanabe, and a pair of Koreans making their league debut. Midfielder Jang In Jun impressed with his tenacity and touches while Lee Joo Sang showed great feet and was constantly a thorn in the Cheetah’s defence with his darting runs.

Hougang fans, on the other hand, also witnessed the maiden bow of their Croatian duo. While Stanislav Vidakovic probably still need some convincing in defence, 32 year old Ante Barac was at his enterprising best in midfield, showing excellent ball sense and the ability to distribute ala Velimir Crljen (SAFFC’s playmaker in the league’s formative years).

Little doubt hence that the game’s opening goal for Hougang on 23 minutes came via an assist from Barac, whose sweet cross from the left saw flying winger Jordan Webb produce a gigantic leap to plan a header at the far corner for 1-0.

However, the lead did not last as admiration of the part of Vidakovic let Kawanabe in and the Japanese needed no second invitation, showing great composure before equalizing with a left-foot curler on 28 minutes.

The home side was rattled but slowly got back into their mode. A lovely free-kick on 4o minutes by Barac had half the crowd shouting goal but alas the strike ended up at the side-netting.

In the 56th minute, Hougang could have netted the second but Jaguars’ custodian Fajar Sarib denied Fazli Jaffar smartly before the deflection was ballooned wastefully by Nurhilmi Jasni.

By this time, Tanjong Pagar was already slowly getting into their defensive shape of men behind the ball with their young captain Delwinder Singh leading the backline while relying on the speedy Lee upfront on his own to cause problems further upfield.

Hougang were restricted to long range efforts as Barac, Azhar Sairudin and rightback Faizal Amir all made Fajar earned his keep in goal.

In the 86th minute, when they finally manage to penetrate into the Jaguars’ penalty area as Webb created space out of nowhere to setup substitute Basit Hamid, Fajar was again alert to deflect the effort out wide was denied.

Then a flowing move in injury time involving Basit and Barac almost saw Azhar finish the move he started but his final shot lack bite and Fajar was able to claw the ball away.

In the first post-match interview with since his return to coaching in Singapore, Hougang coach Nenad Bacina lamented that his players deserved more than a point from the game.

“I am happy with the commitment, approach and how we played, but of course we can’t be happy with the final result.

“But this is football, it doesn’t mean when you control the game for 80 minutes, you will win the game”, he added.
The former Woodlands coach also revealed that his optimism in that Mamadou Diallo should be available for selection the next game as there will be two chances for the livewire forward to clear his mandatory Beep test.

For Jaguars’ coach Terry Pathmanathan, he felt his players still needed time to gel as a team.
“The players was nervous and pressured for much of the game, even the more senior players.

They looked like they were afraid of holding the ball, when in fact, they are more than capable of doing so”, the former national captain commented.

No doubt he will be working on his charges in training to whip them into shape. However there was a sour note for the Jaguars as veteran journeyman Azlan Alipah was taken to hospital in what could be a serious knee injury.