Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fadhil the hero as Hougang nicks the win

Ratna Suffian’s 84th header may have won the game for Hougang United but it was the name of teammate Fadhil Salim that Cheetah fans were chanting at the end of the game as the home side defeated the visiting Albirex Niigata (Singapore) side on Monday night by a solitary goal.

Hougang coach Aide Iskandar had high praise for his custodian, “For me, he was top class today. He was everywhere!”

“I think he made about five saves which kept us in the game. That gave a lot of confidence to the defence.”

Indeed, the Hougang custodian was kept busy by the visitors right from the start.

He showed good reflexes to deny a goalbound shot by Tatsuro Inui in the 11th minute as a quick freekick allowed the Albirex dangerman in.

Six minutes later, he went one better by pulling off a double save. Inui’s curling freekick was punched clear and the follow up header by Keisuke Matsui was again thwarted by Fadhil.

Albirex fans were left disappointed yet again in the 27th minute as the Hougang custodian once again got down well to his right to stop Inui’s freekick attempt.

Four minutes before the break saw Fadhil pulled off what was probably his best save of the night.

Again, Inui was in the thick of action as he laid a quick pass into the danger area to striker Shotaro Ihata, whose left foot volley brought out a stupendous save from the Cheetahs’ keeper.

Though they were outplayed for most of the first period, Aide’s men continued to stay focused and displayed a high level of concentration in their defensive duties.

They never really tested Yoshito Matsushita’s goal in the first period other than a freekick attempt by Argentinian Carlos Delgado which required the keeper’s intervention.

Other than that, the only danger the Japanese side encountered was the occasional counter attacks which relied largely on the pace of Mamadou Diallo and Jordan Webb.

Albirex continued their pressure on the Hougang goal early in the second period.

A flowing move in the 49th minute involving Inui, Ihata then saw teammate Yosuke Saito’s deflected shot off a defender almost loop into goal, only to be denied by a back-pedalling Fadhil who got his fingertips to the ball.

Aided by Fadhil’s inspiring performance, the Hougang boys began to up their performances.

Diallo tried to lift the spirits of the home crowd with a chip from 35 metres out in the 57th minute but to no avail.

Just as the Cheetahs were beginning to stamp more authority on the game, defender Syaqir Sulaiman’s two moments of madness almost caused his team.

He had just gotten a caution in the 73th minute for a late tackle before another rash challenge, which looked like a slap on Inui, saw him got receive a straight red from the referee.

There was much debate as to where the second offence took place but referee W.Ravisanthiran only awarded a freekick on the edge of the box, much to the frustration of the Albirex bench.

A smart save off the resulting setpiece situation and another from substitute Bruno Castanheira’s in the 80th minute ensured Fadhil was the undoubted man-of-the-match.

Then, the moment the suffering Hougang fans had been waiting for came.

Delgado swung in a freekick into the danger zone and Ratna got the decisive touch which left Matsushita gasping in mid-air.

Hougang was rocking. Led by Ratna and captain Shariff Samat at the back, the Cheetahs gallantly guarded their lead for the rest of the game to clinched full points.

Speaking to the crew after the game, Aide was clearly delighted with his side’s overall performance.

He said, “I am very pleased with the defending, especially with only 10 men.”

“The boys played above themselves, noting the fact we had only 48 hours of rest from our last game.”

“If they can put up this kind of performance defensively as a team, I think we will be able to get a few more good results”, he added.

Despite the praise he had for Fadhil, the former national skipper did acknowledge that consistency has been a problem for his man and is something he has to help him with.

On the other end, the Albirex players were visibly gutted out by the result and perhaps all the more with the men in black.

White Swans’ coach Koichi Sugiyama said, “We prayed that we do not need to say anything against the referees this season.

“We wanted to be patient. But this is very regrettable”, he said in an unusually serious tone, while declining to elaborate further.

Despite the setback, credit must go to Coach Sugiyama as he got his troops back on the field to shake hands with their opponents, just as his charges were heading back to the dressing room in utter disappointment.

{Photo credits to Gale'11 facebook page}

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