Hougang United began their game against Warriors FC on Wednesday night under the direction of their third coach of the season in caretaker Amin Nasir, who took over from Johana Johari after being appointed one day before the match.
His team fought well and even had a goal disallowed as they went down 2-1 to a confident Warriors outfit brought to the Hougang Stadium by coach Alex Weaver, who himself had coached the hosts in the early weeks of the season.
It was to prove a warm welcome back for Weaver, who saw his side go ahead after 22 minutes before extending their lead through Mislav Karoglan from the penalty spot after Erwan Gunawan had been brought down by Fazly Hasan in the 72nd minute.
They faltered somewhat after that as Hougang began to throw on fresh legs while the Warriors were beginning to struggle with injuries sustained during the match, having already made their three replacements.
Hougang appeared to have pulled one back in the 78th minute after Liam Shotton’s effort from wide on the right looked to be headed in off the far-post.
However, when Fazli Jaffar came skidding through to make sure and stab the ball home, referee Leow Thiam Hoe responded to his assistant’s flag on the far side to indicate an offside and rule out the warmly-acclaimed strike.
Up to that point, Warriors goalkeeper Hassan Sunny had dealt with everything comfortably, plucking crosses out of the air with ease and saving from strong shots by Fazli in each half of the game, with a brilliant diving save in the 25th minute sticking in the mind particularly.
While Hassan was in impeccable form, the men in front of him were solid as well as Marin Vidosevic looked very composed alongside veteran Daniel Bennett.
It was Vidosevic who opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, his spectacular overhead kick proving too good for Cheetahs goalkeeper Fadhil Salim after a corner from the left by Shimpei Sakurada appeared to have tested the contending Warriors strikers in the crowded goalmouth.
His back to goal, Vidosevic clearly had other ideas as he launched himself at the ball and was to prove the ice-breaker with his quick thinking as he found the roof of the net.
After that, the Warriors began to play with even more poise and they might have put the game well beyond Hougang’s reach in the 55th minute when Sakurada sent Tatsuro Inui through to face Fadhil.
But the Japanese livewire somehow clipped his left-footer onto and over the crossbar, leaving more still to be done to settle the issue.
The penalty that made it 2-0 did that but after some substitutions, Hougang came storming back.
However, they left it too late to make their only goal count as more than a consolation as their 88th minute sizzler from substitute Fairoz Hasan whizzed low past Hassan after an earlier cross had been deflected and cleared only as far as the waiting Fairoz.
Hassan made one final rush off his line to claim the ball from a last-ditch Hougang raid four minutes into stoppage-time to leave the Warriors victorious 2-1, but knowing that they had been made to work every inch of the way.