Nurhilmi Secures Three Points For Hougang

Balestier's Raihan Rahman attempts a shot against his former team.
Photo: Great Eastern - Hyundai S.League

Aaron Chan
Writer / Editor
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Hougang United broke a three goal losing streak when they beat Balestier Khalsa last evening with a solitary goal coming from Nurhilmi Jasni in the first half.

The Tigers were without key players Aung Kyaw Naing and Tajeli Selamat and young playmaker Hanafi Akbar was given the nod to make his first start for Balestier while Hougang head coach Philippe Aw handed Antoine Viterale his second start of the season in place of the injured Pablo Aracil Rodríguez.

It was Viterale who made an early impression when he pounced on a loose ball in the box just moments after kick-off but the 20-year-old hesitated before making his shot, giving Zaiful Nizam enough time to react for a save.

Nazrul Nazari then let fly with a screamer from outside the box nine minutes later but Zaiful pulled off an amazing save to deny the Hougang midfielder.

It was Balestier's turn to pile the pressure on Hougang's goal and Raihan Rahman's fantastic inswinging free kick in the 22nd minute was met by Ashrul Syafeeq, whose header came within inches of hitting the back of the net.

Hazzuwan Halim was then exasperated when he missed the ball completely after being put through with a one-on-one with Khairulhin Khalid in the 33rd minute and the miss would come back to haunt Balestier barely six minutes later when Hougang skipper Nurhilmi Jasni poked the ball home from close range after a Hougang corner was flicked on to his feet. 

Viterale had a chance to extend the Cheetahs' lead just before the break when his one-two with Nurhilmi gave him an open shot at goal but Zaiful somehow managed to smother it.

The Hougang HOOLs were in fine voice as always.

Raihan almost punished his former teammates with a cracker from distance after the restart and Khairulhin displayed excellent reflexes to keep the 26 year old's shot out. Balestier's waves of attack continued a minute later when Nanda Linn found himself in unmarked territory to unleash a powerful header that sailed just over the crossbar.

Nurhilmi continued to spearhead Hougang's attack after his goal and his hard work should have paid in the 61st minute when his low cross crept into the 6 yard box but there was no orange shirt around to capitalize.

The match was then suspended for 30 minutes just past the 72nd minute mark when streaks of lightning across the northeastern sky prompted referee W. Ravisanthiran to usher both teams off the pitch.

Following the resumption of the match, Raihan had two attempts on goal in the 82nd minute but he could not get enough power behind his shots to trouble Khairulhin.

The Tigers were adamant in getting at least a point out of the match and Shah Hirul substantiated this by letting fly with a long shot that flew just wide of the upright two minutes later. 

Hougang's hearts were in their mouths towards the end of the game when Shah Hirul was open in the box but the 31 year old in some way managed to head the ball wide with acres of space around him.

The last corner went Balestier's way and Zaiful ran the full length of the pitch in the hope of grabbing a dramatic equalizer and it could have gone that way when the ball was floated towards the Balestier custodian at the far post but it was too high for him to do anything.

Hougang United head coach Philippe Aw was delighted with the win. On his decision to start Viterale, the 39 year old explained that it was because of the effort put in by the youngster during training, "It's very simple. You need to perform your best in training in order to justify your selection in the team."

Aw was also satisfied with Viterale's performance, "He played to my instructions. That was really important. I'm pleased with his performance and I think he should have scored. He played really well." said the Cheetahs' gaffer.

"I felt that we controlled the game well. For us, I felt that what was lacking was the final ball. We got into the final third but we need to work harder to put (the final ball) away."   

On the other hand, Balestier head coach Marko Kraljevic thought that a draw would have been a more fair result given the balance of play between the two sides. "That's football." said the German-born Croat with a wry smile "I'm always disappointed when I lose. We may have played well but ultimately it's the points that count."

"We were struggling up front without a proper striker. Well, we worked really hard and tried our best but we couldn't make any key passes or shots in the final third." 

Kraljevic was also ruing a chance Hanafi Akbar had in the first half where the youngster backed off from a challenge in spite of having a good scoring chance, "He was afraid." said the former Balestier forward. "I told him, if you're afraid, don't play soccer, play chess.", drawing laughter from the press.

"But it's tough for him. I mean, he's starting his first game after three years. He needs some more time to settle in. And it's not his position (Hanafi started in an unfamiliar centre forward position). But I have faith in him, I know he will get better and better with his talent. Give him some time."

Hougang and Balestier both meet tough opposition next with the Cheetahs going up against Warriors FC at Choa Chu Kang on 11 May while the Tigers will play Home United in a rescheduled fixture at Bishan on 2nd May.

Full-Time at Hougang Stadium - S.League (27 April 2017):

Hougang United - 1
Balestier Khalsa - 0


Hougang United - Nurhilmi Jasni 39'

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