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Pre-match Warmups: Hougang to build up momentum against Sabah FC [AFC 2nd leg]

Submitted by: Clovis | 28th November 2023

Hougang's 1-1 draw against Lion City Sailors on Saturday means that we have secured qualification for the semi-finals in the Singapore Cup. With that worry out of the way, we have AFC Cup football in our hands on Thursday when we host Sabah. There has been a bit of trauma shared between the fans after our first matchup against Sabah where it rained heavily resulting in a disastrous display of football in a 3-1 defeat.

Hougang to build up momentum against Sabah FC. Would things be any different this time? Let's break it down.

keep an eye out for darren lok

Lok has been on fire for Sabah in the AFC Cup this year. He is the competition's third top scorer with 5 goals in 4 matches and the worrying thing is he has scored most of his goals via headers. In fact, Sabah has scored a lot of their goals by headers in the competition. Why must we worried about this? Because we are awful in defending crosses and set pieces.

Darren Lok Stats taken from Wikipedia
Darren Lok Stats. 📸 Wikipedia

A case in point: the goal we conceded against the Sailors was due to poor defending off a set piece. We allowed Shawal (out of all players) to get the better of us and head in the equaliser for his side. There must be an emphasis on how we mark Sabah's tank men because it's already difficult when our defence has an average height of 1.79m.

What's scary is, we don't have a aerially dominated player aside from Maksimovic and we cannot heavily rely on Zaiful coming out for every cross. Our defence must play as a unit and bring their "A" game on to keep Sabah and Lok out of our goal.

Shawal Anuar. 📸Spl Youtube
Shawal Anuar with the header. 📸Spl Youtube

Marko tactically won the game

Marko's tactics against LCS really worked a number this time. We had to deal with the loss of our captain in Zulfahmi and then to lose out on our midfield maestro in Shahdan (for the second time this year). And to make things worse, Krajcek was still no where to be seen as we were told he went back to Croatia for treatment. This meant that the odds were against us.

Thankfully, it seemed as if Marko heard our pleas. He set up in a 4-2-2-2 formation with a balanced midfield as Irwan manoeuvred as a holding midfielder. This allowed Ajay more chances to roam freely. He had both targetmen Hazzuwan and Maksimovic press the defence due to their unwavering effort and pace. We then switch to a 5-3-2 on the defence. I'm really happy with the approach we took because against a team like LCS who has a lot of quality up top, our defence has to be as tight as possible.

Sahil would then drop down into midfield to provide more stability whilst Nazrul dropped back into defence and this is what I'm going to emphasise. Nazrul played in a right wing-back role in transition. This allowed for a more secured central defence as Anders sat deep with the two Japanese defenders. This allowed Nazrul to have less space to cover to focus strictly on his right side. This move paid off as he knicked the ball off of Lopes and released a sumptuous ball towards Maksimovic for the opener.

Nazrul gets the better of Diego Lopes.📸Spl Youtube
Nazrul gets the better of Diego Lopes before releasing a curved through pass to Maksi. 📸Spl Youtube

This is especially why a back five was so important. Having a strong defence means a need for more players to come in to support the Sailors' attack. With more players moving upwards, it means more space to exploit which was the case when Maksimovic made a brilliant run past the defence to square the ball through Izwan's legs.

Djorje Maksimovic continues his scoring form. 📸Spl Youtube
Hero Djorje Maksimovic runs through on goal to continue his scoring form.📸Spl Youtube

thriving midfield

Zulfahmi's departure, Krajcek's and Shahdan's injury meant that we had a thin depth for midfield. Irwan was an undisputed starter but he was never going to provide an energy in midfield. In fact, we barely had any of that this season. Zulfahmi borderline gave a bit of push from the center but he played too conservative for his own good.

Bring in: Ajay Robson

Arguably his best ever game in a Hougang jersey, we've saw glimpses of his debut performance in 2022. Ajay brought in fresh legs and determination and his work rate was why he was allowed to roam freely because he operated in both defensive and attacking in a sole role.

Ajay gets the better of Hami Syahin in this solo run. 📸Spl Youtube
Ajay gets the better of Hami Syahin in this solo run. 📸Spl Youtube

It was his work rate to come back to defend that allowed us to win the ball back from a Sailors' attack. It was also his eagerness that led to him getting the better of Anu on the right flank, and as we mentioned earlier about the Sailors giving up too much space in transition, he gave a splendid ball to Maksimovic that unfortunately we could not capitalise on.

Ajay gets the better of Anu in this solo run. 📸Spl Youtube
Ajay gets the better of Anu in this solo run. 📸Spl Youtube

I'd really love to see Marko give Ajay a chance in the AFC Cup, because from what we saw on Saturday night it's you can't knock it 'til you try it. Against a team that dominates physically, a silky yet hardheaded player like Ajay might just be what we need to win some duels in the center of the park.

Sabah's penetration approach

Sabah set up in a 3-4-3 against Haiphong in their last AFC Cup match but also operated as a 3-3-4 on the attack when either of their left or right midfielders decide to push up. Hypothetically, they could also play in a 3-2-5 or a 2-3-5 if both decides to push up. This could combat our 5 at-the-back strategy as they play with more numbers up top.

The Sabah line up in their last match against Hai Phong. 📸Google
The Sabah line up in their last match against Hai Phong. 📸Google

On the defence, they go into a 4-4-2 block with players going out of position to cover empty spaces. This could make it complicated for our 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-4 attack to push in. Hougang might have to rely on a lot of crossing rather than passing into space to deal with Sabah's approach.

Man of the match

According to the SPL, Zaiful was the Man of the Match against LCS and I'd expect most of our fans to vote for him as our HougangTV Man of the Match too. Link to the voting here. The SG Cup match was a brilliant showing from Zaiful that he still has it in him.

As Sabah will try to use their height advantage to good use, Zaiful will be a good counter due to his cross claiming (one of the best in the league). We've seen his saves off headers so it's going to be an entertaining showdown when he is called upon.

We need a win to have even a slight hope of qualifying for the knockouts. It's down to the team to show how much they want it. #1H1H


Hougang vs Sabah FC Quick Report:

- 3-4-3 formation preferred(Sabah). On attack, 3-3-4.

- Dangermen: Darren Lok, Cifu, Ramon Machado, Saddil Ramdani

- Sabah FC will not be used to playing on the artifical surface. This could be advantageous.

- Sabah will look to exploit the height advantage against us, especially in set pieces.

- Kiki and Shahdan should still be on the injury list.

- Sabah's throw-in threat is nullified by the JBS infrastructure.

— Tune in to the "Upcoming" section of our homepage after the matchday to see the latest scores. Or simply follow our 'hougang_hools' instagram page or 'Hougang United FC Supporters Club' on facebook to see video snippets or updates on latest scores. All images used are stocks or from the hougang united instagram page unless otherwise stated.

Will Maksimovic continue his scoring streak?

  • 0%Yes!🥳

  • 0%No.

Will you be coming to JBS to support local?

  • 0%Yes. Definitely!

  • 0%I can't make it. 😫

Which Sabah FC player is most likely to hurt us? (Multiple answers)

  • 0%Darren Lok

  • 0%Gabriel Peres. Set piece. Again.

  • 0%Ramon Machado

  • 0%Saddil Ramdani

You can vote for more than one answer.


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