A brace each from defender Igor Cerina and super-sub Basit Hamid gave Hougang United a thumping triumph on Thursday evening as they scored four goals for the first time this season to beat Harimau Muda 4-1.
The Cheetahs were looking to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat against Brunei DPMM on Saturday and they did so in style against a side they have beaten in both prior meetings this year.
The young Malaysians arrived with a depleted side as most of their regulars missed out, having only recently returned from participating in the Thanh Nien Newspaper Cup tournament in Vietnam.
Coach Razip Ismail was also not in attendance from the start and assistant Azizul Bidin could only name two outfield substitutes on the bench as a second-string starting line-up took to the pitch.
It took only three minutes for the hosts to go ahead as they exposed their inexperienced opponents.
A free-kick floated into the area found centre-back Cerina at the far post and the Croatian bundled home from close range to make it 1-0.
It should have been two soon after, Jerome Baker denied by goalkeeper Hafizul Hakim in a one-on-one situation after Mamadou Diallo had set him up following a break down the left.
Cerina wasn’t as wasteful when he got the next bite of the cherry, easily rising unmarked to glance in Fazli Jaffar’s free-kick from the left in the 12th minute.
The floodgates threatened to open by then but to their credit, the Young Tigers managed to stem the Hougang tide somewhat, although Cheetahs custodian Fadhil Salim remained largely untroubled.
The home side appeared to take their foot off the pedal as well, with Akmal Ishak’s snapshot - comfortably saved by Fadhil - the only other noteworthy action before half-time.
Hafizul was called into action less than a minute into the second half though, the goalkeeper doing well to turn away Diallo’s fierce drive from the left. The Guinean then swerved a shot wide of the far post, when a square ball to Baker would have left the latter with a tap-in.
Nurhilmi Jasni then somehow contrived to poke wide Fazli’s cross from six yards out on the hour, as the third goal continued to elude Hougang.
Coach Amin Nasir sought to shake things up as he made his first change a minute later, and it proved to be an inspired one.
Barely seconds after coming on for Diallo, Basit ran on to a long ball in the area and brilliantly dinked it over Hafizul, his inch-perfect shot dipping just under the bar.
Harimau Muda were barely having a sniff of the ball, but their supporters remained in fine voice as they rocked to their own beat in the away end and made their presence heard.
It was to nobody’s surprise when Hougang made it 4-0 with a quarter of the game left, Basit producing a superb scissors-kick to guide in Baker’s cross from the right.
Cerina then narrowly failed to get his head to Thomas Beattie’s near-post flick-on from a corner, but the Cheetahs were caught out in the 86th minute as Harimau Muda pulled one back.
Farizzuan Azhar, one of the more lively players on the night for the Malaysians, beat three men as he drove into the box and drove a fine finish past Fadhil at the near post.
That was the only consolation for the plucky but out-of-depth Malaysians, although nothing should be taken away from an impressive display by the Cheetahs.