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Tactical Review: Righting wrongs written from the right — Hougang United vs Lion City Sailors

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

By: HougangTV (instagram) | 16 August 2023


Hougang United vs Lion City Sailors — After our second ever four-game winning streak beating DPMM 1-0 last game, it seemed like Hougang was going to continue this momentum despite having to host the heavy hitters; Lion City Sailors. There seemed to be some newfound promise after winning 12 more points in our goal to reach the top 5 and there was some confidence amongst the camp to take back a good result against the Sailors.


However, we were yet again heavily exposed by our lack of awareness and perhaps squad depth. That has yet again led to limited choices in every area of the pitch when it came to dealing with the Sailors. The 8-2 thrashing has now become our biggest loss this season, eclipsing the 5-0 loss against the same opposition. I’m not the best tactical analyst so don’t take my words as a tactician but more of just a fan who thinks he knows what he’s saying.

"The 8-2 thrashing has now become our biggest loss this season..."

The right-back who gets left back


A common trend we saw all game was that the Sailors were constantly attacking from our left side. And if we look at how the game went, it makes so much sense as Nazrul was far from his best in that game. The consequence of him being one of our vital attacking outputs was that he was constantly left in no man’s land whenever we got hit on the counter.


Now for the first goal, I wouldn’t put much blame on Nazrul as the loose ball was already being dealt with by Louka who just couldn’t contain a brilliant cross in from Nur Adam towards Lopes. But it was from the second goal onwards when Nazrul was being exposed constantly. During the change of phase from when we lost the ball, we saw that we had a perfect defensive line of Anders, Kuriyama, and Takayama.


Diego Lopes with the ball against Hougang United
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

As Lopes drove in, Anders tightened up with Kuriyama as Takayama was on standby for the pass towards Lestienne on the right. All but Nazrul were in sync to cover the gaps but the left hand side was being left empty and Rasaq duly exploited it.


Diego Lopes squares it to Abdul Rasaq of the Sailors
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Not only was Nazrul caught out of position, but he didn’t make much of an effort to run and apply pressure on Rasaq which started a common trend of leaving Anders to handle both the central and left positions of the pitch.


The third goal was really frustrating because Kuriyama’s just pulled one goal back. It was the perfect opportunity to recollect after the break and press harder for a goal which is what Marko would’ve probably wanted. Alas, if you watch the game on YouTube, we were again hit on the counter. You could see that Nazrul was not even in the frame.


Nazrul Nazari was nowhere in the frame allowing the LCS counter-attack
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

As usual, the trio of Anders, Kuri, and Taka were recovering their tracks. Zulfahmi was chasing after Lestienne while Irwan is managing the zone between him and Lopes. Both Japanese defenders were on Rasaq but no one was tasked with keeping Zivkovic at bay. As a result of Nazrul’s absence, Anders was in two minds of whether to support keeping Rasaq quiet or take on Zivkovic. The lack of defensive stability at the left flank led to a powerful shot by the Curacaon to destroy whatever pressure Hougang were applying.


Anders Aplin has to deal with Richairo Zivkovic who is through on goal
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

The exact same thing happened AGAIN for the fourth. Now I may give Nazrul a bit of leeway as nobody was marking Lestienne which could’ve prevented the quick pass for Van Huizen’s shot.


Quick passes from Maxime Lestienne unto Van Huizen.
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

But this again begs the question - where was Nazrul? Louka was already dealing with Wright which should’ve been the cue for Nazrul to go back deeper and stay on Van Huizen but he didn’t. He was pretty much a bystander for this goal.


where is Nazrul Nazari for this one?
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

The fifth goal wasn’t entirely on Nazrul but he certainly faced the most consequence. Yet again we see a case of the left sided attacker being left completely free leading to Zivkovic scoring an easy goal. From then on, Nazrul was exposed yet again in taking on his 1v1 duels.


He was entirely outmuscled by Zivkovic for the sixth, needlessly losing the ball in his own box against Zulqarnaen for the seventh, and his early committment to a tackle led to Haiqal Pashia scoring an incredible solo goal for the last.


Haiqal Pashia getting past Nazrul
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Nazrul tackled by Zulqarnaen
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Zivkovic gets past Nazrul
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp





Personally, I think a lack of squad depth has a part to play. It was clear that Nazrul was not in it that game but had to remain the whole 90. What else could Marko have done? Perhaps take Nazrul out for Vestering and shift everyone to the right leaving Anders in right-back? He did have glimpses of potential when he starred at right-back for us this season but it wasn’t as if he played well against Sailors either. I don’t think we can put the blame on the fact that Nazrul is an attacking fullback. Given how Takayama was in good positions to track back, it could possibly be just Nazrul playing his usual game but getting caught out miserably.



Zaiful or Zainol?


I might be the only one, I might not. But at least one of us have discussed the differences between our custodians and debated on who was more suitable to start in these games. But I think this game may have solidified my opinion on who should be our number one.

Now I know that I may be harsh as it’s not like Zaiful really had a proper defense for the entire season, let alone this game, but given how well Zainol Gulam performed in the two games he started this year, I feel that he would’ve done much better against the Sailors. I've always told my friends that I’m not saying we should totally drop Zaiful but to rotate between the two - Zainol for teams who are heavy hitters and take shots at every opportunity while Zaiful for teams who like to sit back and take precision shots. This is because of their playstyles which I won’t elaborate because I’m getting too out of topic.

In this match alone, Zaiful has conceded one header, one curler, two hard powered shots, and four tap-ins. Zainol would’ve probably saved half of them. The thing about Zaiful is that what he makes up for lack of height in his footwork and reactions but this also means Zaiful has to do more guesswork and diving backwards. This happened for both the hard powered shots from Zivkovic and Van Huizen where Zaiful either seemed to have made his mind before the shot or entire momentum dragged him backwards (he dove backwards for Pashia’s goal too.)



Haiqal Pashia scores past Zaiful
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

There's only one Zaiful Nizam
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Zivkovic scores past Zaiful
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

His lack of height was also taken advantage of for Rasaq’s goal. While it was a good curler, it wasn’t curled straight into the bottom corner and was definitely savable. While yes, Anders did block his vision, a taller goalkeeper (or in this case, one with better reach) would’ve saved it.


Zaiful couldn't keep out Rasaq's effort on goal
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Zainol As we saw from the Balestier game at home, Zainol made several super saves. One off Taniguchi’s close ranged shot, a brilliant foot-save against Ignatius Ang. He also made a good save that looked certain to hit the roof of the net against Tampines’ Kopitovic. In fact, I’d argue that the clear advantage Zaiful has over Zainol is how aggressive he is in crosses and his distribution. But that doesn’t matter too much against a team that doesn’t allow his distribution to be benefitted: like LCS.


Zainol Gulam makes a save for Hougang United vs Balestier Khalsa
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Zainol Gulam using his foot to save
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Zainol using his height to make a save
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

I want to reiterate that by no means am I doubting Zaiful. He’s been a veteran of the game with 5 international caps so he’s definitely done something right. But the way he plays doesn’t inspire much confidence amongst fans due to how high the odds are against him. In fact, I felt his weaknesses were constantly being sought out during his golden glove campaign, and even in that season he was on the losing end of another 8-2 thrashing.


Now before people come at me and say that Zainol lost 8-0 to LCS as well, consider that Zaiful had a relatively better defense than Zainol did and Zainol still made 8 saves that game (16 on target, 8 goals). Unfortunately, I don’t have access to InStats’ SPL stats so I can’t give much more insight here.


However, as much as I hope for Zainol to start more, there was a reason Zaiful was brought into the team and it wasn’t to play second fiddle regardless of how mediocre he has played thus far. But it is something we can discuss as a fanbase as the topic surrounding our defense has been a rollercoaster this season.


Failed in passing. Passed in failing.


The main issue that probably screwed us over was how horrible we were when trying to play the ball. The issue was that we couldn’t string a good few passes or we showed no desire to really win back the ball. Due to how instrumental our fullbacks are in the offense, sloppy passes often lead to us being on the opposing side of the counter. Just three minutes in, we nearly saw ourselves 1-0 down after Nazrul’s forced pass led to a counter.


Nazrul Nazari giving posession away
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Below was another example of the lack of willingness to win back the ball. Perhaps if it was an experienced player, this wouldn’t happen, but Louka did himself no favors by hesitating on going for the ball as it led to us conceding in this phase.


Louka Tan giving away posession to Anumanthan
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

This phase itself showed a lot of problems and a general idea on what went wrong. Here when we lose the ball, you’d expect players to switch on and quickly cover the spaces but the exact opposite happened. The moment Louka allowed Anu to win back the ball, Irwan should’ve at least move in and try to press on Anu or make an attempt to recover his tracks but instead "threw his hands up". This too, was a major topic during Tampines’ match against LCS when Yasir’s poor body language was blamed for letting Lestienne score a stunner. Irwan wasn’t the main issue here but the way he reacted was a poor testament to his experience when the team was trying to chase a goal.


Anumanthan wants to make a pass to diego Lopes
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Now take a look at Sahil at the top. He was the closest player available to close down Lopes. Some might argue that he was staying in that position to press a possible pass back to Van Huizen but just look at the space Lopes had for himself. A player like Anu was never going to waste an opportunity by playing it back when Maksimovic arguably was also in a position to press the passback to either Lionel or Van Huizen - Sahil should’ve dropped deeper and support the midfield seeing as Irwan was completely out of position during the earlier phase. (Also note how high up Nazrul was which allowed Rasaq to completely burst past him.)


When the second half opened, it was like I said, a good opportunity to try and fight back for another goal. Takayama opted to play it to Zulfahmi who later lost the ball with a sloppy pass. And this was very uncharacteristic for Zulfahmi who was the Man of the Match in our last game against DPMM. It felt like he was trying to be a little cheeky in his pass. I felt like it’d have been a safer choice to play it down to Irwan as the issue was that Lestienne was already standing in front of Takayama. Playing it to Irwan would’ve given a second or two to turn and play the ball.


Zulfahmi gives away the ball to maxime Lestienne
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

And yet again was a common trend of poor decisions. Minutes before the fourth goal went in, we found ourselves in a really good position for a counter attack when Sailors’ corner didn’t go the way they wanted to. Irwan picked up the ball and had two options next to him - Maksimovic and Nazrul. Irwan was already being chased down by Wright and Hariss and I suppose this was why Maksimovic moved more centrally to provide space for Irwan to run into to give himself a bit of a breather.


Irwan Shah, Nazrul and Maksimovic on the counter-attack
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

I doubt the intention of Maksimovic’s run was to have a ball played into his feet because he already had Zulqarnaen at his tail. But rather than running out wide, Irwan tried to force a pass through Wright.


Irwan shah loses possession
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

This led to us losing the ball in a crucial moment and the rest (the fourth goal) is history. This entire match just felt like watching a team who was afraid of pressure. It was as if nobody could cope with opposition applying the press on us. Kuriyama nearly conceded for us when his backpass to Zaiful was extremely short which he had to sweep.


Zivkovic and Anders
Image credit: AIA Singapore Premier League and/or Mediacorp

Semangat

Whenever you watch football, local or foreign, you always see people complaining that the players don’t show any heart when the game doesn’t go their way. It’s an issue for every team, but a bigger deal for a club like Hougang United where the whole purpose of the club is built on heart. I’ll quote what many of the fans of our club says, “I don’t care if we lose, as long as the players show semangat.”

Us fans don’t demand much. Regardless of our quality whether we are at the bottom of the barrel or we are the best team in the world, the thing we care the most is the spirit our players show. When our players show spirit, it’s as if subconsciously they start playing better. It's kind of self explanatory - you play hungry for a win, you win what you play. But this entire match we saw just sloppy passes, lack of desire to run, a lack of effort in layman terms. This is what I feel was the major drawback in the game, no desire to fight for the ball, no desire to make the runs.

Nonetheless, we still have two more games in the league. Fourth spot is already mathematically secured so we still have a shot to finish fifth and above Geylang for bragging rights. We still have the AFC Cup and Singapore Cup and we saw how well our boys played in these two competitions last year. All we ask is for the team to bring in the spirit and play their hearts out for these matches. As always, Satu Hati Satu Hougang.


"All we ask is for the team to bring in the spirit and play their hearts out for these matches. As always, Satu Hati Satu Hougang."
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KingKikilover10
KingKikilover10
Aug 17, 2023

I think there is so much to be said in regards with the performance of our wing-backs. I am really hoping Abdil comes back into the picture too as he provides a certain calmness to our defense. We have 2 more games left and hopefully we make the best out of it and try to finish 5th. Meanwhile this game I am actually quite happy with Maksimovic and the type of player he showed he can be esp in the first half. Cheers to more articles from Hougangtv!


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Confaderal
Confaderal
Aug 17, 2023
Replying to

Ya Abdil is quick too, for his age, to do those kinds of recovery runs wow

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