Shahril Ishak on mark as Warriors edge Hougang in S.League
Shahril Ishak continued his impressive scoring form in 2017 as his solitary strike helped Warriors FC overcome Hougang United 1-0 in a televised clash at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
It was the Singapore captain's 12th goal in all competitions, as the nine-time champions closed within two points of third-placed Home United, nine points behind leaders Albirex Niigata (S).
Hougang created the first opportunity of the night in the third minute, but captain Azhar Sairudin curled over after a clearance fell into his path in the box.
They would live to rue that miss as Warriors opened the scoring three minutes later.
A Ho Wai Loon ball over the top caught out the three-man Hougang backline. Shahril expertly took down the ball before finishing underneath the onrushing Khairulhin Khalid.
Hougang were largely on top for the rest of the first half and did create a few decent opportunities to level matters. But most of their attempts went straight to Warriors' goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma'at.
The best chance came in the 34th minute when Fumiya Kogure teed up Azhar with a left-wing cross. However, the latter just failed to apply the finishing touch in front of goal.
The Cheetahs carried where they left off after the restart, with Kogure forcing Hyrulnizam to tip his 25-yard free kick wide for a corner on 51 minutes.
Warriors spurned an excellent opportunity to double their advantage a minute later, with Shahril somehow nodding Emmeric Ong's cross over from three yards out.
With Hougang pushing hard for the equaliser, Warriors found lots of space behind their defence, and went through on goal twice. However, Khairulhin stood up tall on both occasions to deny Shahril and Fazli Jaffar's goal-bound shots.
Going in the final 15 minutes, Hougang had threw on impact subs Fareez Farhan and Pablo Rodriguez. But there was no way past a stout Warriors' backline led by Kento Fukuda.
In the 79th minute, Shahril hit the bar from close range after Fazli Jaffar had stolen the ball off Delwinder Singh.
And Khairulhin kept the score down with late, stunning saves to deny substitute Hafiz Nor and Shahril from point-blank range.
Hougang were unable to penetrate at the other end, and suffered their first loss in seven games in all competitions as a result.
The Cheetahs remain in sixth, a point behind Geylang International who play Albirex Niigata (S) on Saturday night.
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Faiz Salleh, Delwinder Singh, Atsushi Shirota, Wahyudi Wahid, Ali Hudzaifi (Iqbal Hussain 85'), Fabian Kwok, Syahiran Miswan, Fairoz Hasan (Fareez Farhan 63'), Fumiya Kogure, Azhar Sairudin (C) (Pablo Rodriguez 84')
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma'at (GK), Emmeric Ong, Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Ang Zhi Wei, Ho Wai Loon, Syaqir Sulaiman (Ridhuan Muhammad 89'), Jordan Webb, Shahril Ishak (C), Fazli Jaffar (Hafiz Nor 83'), Andrei Ciolacu (Fadhil Noh 88')
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT