White Swans put down Cheetahs to soar top

Koichi Sugiyama’s forces dominated possession against Hougang United and eventually prevailed in a slender 1-0 victory

Hougang United took on Albirex Niigata (S) at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Round 3 of the S.League on Friday night and it was the Japanese team came away with the three points.

In a game that looked like it could go either way, the Cheetahs started with a similar line-up that drew against Brunei DPMM 3-3, except for a change of captaincy, with Fadhil Salim given the armband this time round.

The White Swans dominated most of the game and came out 1-0 winners, but they could have easily scored more if not for Fadhil's heroics in goal.

Albirex monopolised possession throughout the first half with Takeshi Nagasawa, Kazuki Sakamoto and Kento Nagasaki linking well in what was a fantastic display of ‘tiki-taka’.

They had the first chance of the evening through Sakamoto, who met Nagasaki’s long ball in the area but his shot was handled well by Fadhil.

The Japanese side kept pressing the Hougang defence and had several shots, but most of them were saved by the Cheetahs' custodian.

In the 24th minute, Nagasaki came close for Albirex again as his shot was comfortably parried by Fadhil, with Sakamoto put the rebound way over the bar.

The 'home' side had half-chances upfront, but they were easily dealt with by the visitors' defence.

Hougang then conceded a penalty in the 38th minute when Syaqir Sulaiman tripped Masatake Sato, but Nagasaki was thwarted by Fadhil, who saved his third penalty of the season.

However, the penalty miss didn’t deter the White Swans and their tenacious attack was rewarded with a goal from Nagasawa, who picked up a loose ball after some shoddy defending and placed it in the top right-hand corner.

Hougang began attacking from the get-go in the second half and Syaqir came close to equalising when his shot was blocked during a goalmouth scramble in the 58th minute.

Striker Liam Shutton then skipped past two defenders and fired a shot from 30 yards, but it swerved wide.

Albirex were continuing to display some brilliant passing and they almost doubled their lead in the 83rd minute when Nagasaki was found unmarked at the top of the box, but could only drag his shot wide.

The closing minutes saw both sides eager to score, but good defending at both ends kept the strikers at bay as Albirex notched their third win of the season.