Shahril Ishak’s early strike was enough to help Warriors FC return to winning ways as they edged Hougang United 1-0 in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
The result saw the nine-time league champions close the gap between them and Home United to a mere two points although they remain fourth with 28 points in 16 games.
Still reeling from their last-gasp 2-1 defeat to leaders Albirex Niigata (S), Warriors nearly found themselves behind three minutes in but Hougang skipper Azhar Sairudin fired over from inside the box after pouncing on a clearance from Kento Fukuda.
They were made to pay for that miss as Warriors went ahead in the sixth minute with Shahril latching onto Ho Wai Loon’s pass before calmly finishing past Khairulhin Khalid for his eighth league goal.
Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu could have doubled the lead for the designated visitors on 11 minutes but the Romanian sent his header off Fazli Jaffar’s freekick straight at Khairulhin instead.
Fumiya Kogure nearly levelled matters two minutes later but saw his effort fly straight into the arms of Hyrulnizam Juma’at before Ho Wai Loon’s tame shot was easily saved by Khairulhin in the 26th minute.
The Cheetahs then conjured two goalscoring opportunities in the space of two minutes but Fabian Kwok drilled low at Hyrulnizam before Azhar narrowly missed the connection off Kogure’s cross.
Delwinder Singh had one final chance to help Hougang pull level in the first-half but nodded straight at Hyrulnizam despite being unmarked.
Philippe Aw’s charges continued to go in search of that elusive equaliser after the break and were nearly rewarded in the 51st minute but Kogure’s fierce freekick was pushed around the post by Hyrulnizam.
At the other end two minutes later, Emmeric Ong put a sumptuous cross into the box from the right but Shahril somehow headed over from close range.
In a bid to inject firepower upfront, Fareez Farhan was then introduced just after the hour mark but it was Razif Onn’s side who almost added a second goal.
However, Shahril and Fazli were both denied by Hougang custodian Khairulhin in the 64th and 71st minute respectively.
Warriors continued to threaten but were thwarted by a combination of the woodwork and the heroics of Khairulhin.
Shahril saw his effort crash off the bar in the 79th minute, before substitute Hafiz Nor cut in for a shot that was kept out by Khairulhin at his near post with four minutes remaining.
Khairulhin was at it again in the dying moments of the game, clawing away Shahril’s goalbound header but it mattered little as Warriors hung on to keep their slim title hopes alive.
With the defeat, Hougang find themselves still in sixth spot with 20 points after 14 games played and will now turn their attention to their RHB Singapore Cup 2017 Quarter Final clash against Cambodian outfit Nagaworld FC next week.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “I wished we had continued our seven-match unbeaten run, but it just had to end today. We were lucky to lose by only a goal, it could been two or three to Warriors but credit has to be given to goalkeeper Khai(rulhin) who made a couple of point-blank saves.
“The early goal gave Warriors something to secure, but I liked the response from the players after we fell. We were in control of the game for the remainder of the first-half and some parts of the second.
Warriors FC Head Coach Razif Onn: “I was generally happy with the performance and it was good to get the three points today.
“After we got the early goal, we found ourselves under pressure as Hougang started to come at us but fortunately we could control them. We have now equalled our point tally from 2016 which was 28 and naturally I feel delighted.”
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Faiz Salleh, Wahyudi Wahid, Atsushi Shirota, Delwinder Singh, Ali Hudzaifi (Iqbal Hussain 85’), Fabian Kwok, Syahiran Miswan, Fairoz Hasan (Fareez Farhan 64’), Azhar Sairudin (C) (Pablo Rodriguez 74’), Fumiya Kogure
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma’at (GK), Emmeric Ong, Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Ang Zhi Wei, Ho Wai Loon, Syaqir Sulaiman (Ridhuan Muhamamd 90’), Jordan Webb, Shahril Ishak (C), Fazli Jaffar (Hafiz Nor 83’), Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu (Fadhil Noh 87’)
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui