Viterale's Strike Helps Hougang Edge Past Ceres

Photo: Christina Seah-Rodrigues

Aaron Chan
Writer / Editor
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

21 June 2017: Antoine Viterale snatched a late winner for Hougang United over AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal semi-finalists Ceres-Negros FC last evening, helping the Cheetahs become the first Singapore side to progress from the preliminary round of the 2017 RHB Singapore Cup.

The French-Italian striker, who turns 21 in less than 2 weeks, has impressed for the Cheetahs in the Prime League so far and he capped off his sixth senior appearance for Hougang this season, coming on for Azhar Sairudin in the 64th minute and wheeling away in celebration 15 minutes later, capitalizing on a rare defensive gaffe by Ceres captain Carlos De Murga to slot home the winner.

The 2016 Philippines UFL runners-up elected to start with only one foreign import - Spanish striker Fernando Rodriguez - while his compatriots Manuel Herrera López and Bienvenido Marañón started on the bench alongside Philippines internationals Roland Muller and Manuel Ott.

Hougang Head Coach Philippe Aw spoke to the press a day before the game, saying that the Cheetahs would do they can to stop the trend of foreign teams progressing in the Singapore Cup at the expense of the local S.League clubs. That mindset rubbed off on his charges as they matched the Busmen in every aspect right from the get-go and their willingness to push forward even saw defender Delwinder Singh moving upfield to unleash a shot at goal as early as the third minute of play.

Hougang playmaker Fumiya Kogure came close to scoring a trademark goal from a free kick 30 yards away in the 23rd minute, scraping the top of the net before OJ Porteria gave the Cheetahs a scare two minutes later, ghosting past Zulfahmi Ariffin to latch on to a brilliant through ball by Kevin Ingreso and nearly scoring if not for Nazrul Nazari's last-ditch clearance off the line.

The Cheetahs contained Ceres really well throughout the game and the pace of Nazrul and Ali Hudzaifi caused problems for the Busmen down both flanks.

Ceres Head Coach Risto Vidaković brought on Marañón after 55 minutes and the Spaniard could have opened the scoring three minutes later when he burst into the box to latch on to Atsushi Shirota's awful back pass but his heavy touch let him down.

Porteria then cut past the Hougang defence moments later, pulling off a cracker of a shot which Khairulhin Khalid had to dive quickly to his left to keep out.

De Murga, who was having a good game up until the goal, played an uncharacteristic miskick during a routine clearance which saw the ball land at the feet of Viterale, who maintained his composure to finish it off with aplomb.

Ceres knew that they had nothing to lose after conceding so late in the game and they surged forward with everything they had left in the tank, leading to a flurry of activity in the closing moments which saw three yellow cards flashed and De Jong, Marañón and Rodriguez all coming close to equalizing but the Cheetahs  managed to hold on valiantly for the win, creating a 'magic of the cup' moment in Singapore's football annals.

Vidaković was not too disappointed with the result as it meant that his team could now focus on their other competitions at hand, though he felt that they could have taken their chances a little better.

"We tried everything. We tried to build up and (Hougang) just defended for the most part of the game. But that’s also a way of playing football. Now we can focus on the Philippines League and the AFC Cup. We have a small squad so maybe the loss isn't so bad." said the Serb.

Aw, on the other hand, was understandably beaming with pride after beating the Busmen. Following up on his pre-match statements, the Hougang gaffer said: "We did it for the fans. We did it for Singapore. That was what we talked about, after the Cambodian teams knocked both Warriors and Balestier Khalsa out from the cup. Nobody gave us a chance, and that gave us the extra push to prove (our detractors) wrong. The boys worked really hard today."

"We knew about the quality (Ceres) has, having watched they many times in the AFC Cup. Marañón and Schrock are both key players for Ceres and we know we had to keep them out of the game. We knew that we were not going to get many chances. We were given three or four and I'm happy that Antoine scored his first senior goal of the season. This win is going to give him and the boys a lot of confidence." he continued.

With the win, Hougang progress to the Quarter-Finals of the Singapore Cup where they will meet one of  four teams who progressed through on a bye, namely Albirex Niigata (S), Brunei DPMM, Home United or Tampines Rovers.

With the league resuming at the end of the month for the Cheetahs, they will hope to continue their giant killing antics when they meet Home United (30 June) and Albirex Niigata (S) (3rd July) in their next two league games.

Lineups and Game Stats:

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