SINGAPORE - The Balestier Khalsa Express came to a screeching halt on Monday night - at the hands of a team who had lost their last six games.
After going undefeated in their previous 11 matches in all competitions, few would have expected the Tigers to have any problems overpowering Hougang United in their RHB Singapore Cup, quarter-final first-leg clash at the Hougang Stadium.
But two goals in a nine-minute spell in the second half helped the Cheetahs - their last win was in the previous round of the RHB Singapore Cup against Tampines Rovers on May 29 -secure an upset.
Hougang coach Johana Johari felt that the win was nothing less than his side deserved.
"I have not been smiling for the past two months," said Johana.
"But my boys played really well.
"They were organised, not like Balestier who were just packing the defence. That's like playing pinball and hoping the ball comes your way, it doesn't work.
"I hope the two-goal cushion will be enough to get us through to the semi-final."
Johana was critical of Balestier's brand of direct, physical football, and got up from his seat more than once during the match to protest challenges he felt were over the top. He even complained to the fourth official that his opponents were playing rugby.
But the Hougang players showed they were also capable of practising football's dark arts.
After Fazli Jaffar (61st minute) and Liam Shotton (70th) had given the Cheetahs a commanding lead, they resorted to scything down Balestier's main attacking threat, Qiu Li.
The half-fit Qiu Li, who was thrown on as a substitute on 73 minutes, was on the receiving end of some flying challenges after he squared up to Hougang defender Shahir Hamzah, whom he accused of elbowing him in the back of the head.
Balestier coach Darren Stewart, however, chose not to comment on the treatment his star forward received.
The former Australia international insisted he was not downcast at seeing his side's 11-match unbeaten run come to an end.
"We deserved it," he said.
"It's not disappointing when you don't play well and don't deserve to win.
"Our defensive shape just wasn't there, and we didn't have the energy we did in previous performances.
"The players are not robots - they deserve an off-day after having so many good ones.
"But we're still in it (the tie), 100 per cent.
"If we get our defensive behaviour back in order, which we will, we'll be okay."
The second leg will be played at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Friday.
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