Ex-Valencia junior Pablo Rodriguez ends S.League horror run

Fomer Valencia junior Pablo Rodriguez earned the praise of his Hougang United coach Philippe Aw after ending a horror introduction to the S.League with his first competitive goal.

Hougang caused another major upset by defeating defending champions Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 on Monday night to blow the S.League title race wide open.

Spain's Rodriguez, who joined the Cheetahs from Indonesia's Madura United at the start of the season, found the net for the first time when he put the home side ahead in the first half.

He headed in Zulfahmi Arifin's inswinging corner to prove his value after being dropped by Aw for the previous six games. But the ex-Home United boss put out a reshaped side with eight changes to cope with a busy schedule for the ambitious Singaporean outfit.

"I'm very happy for Pablo... he finally broke his duck," Aw said.

"Everyone was saying we will lose this game, or thinking we will get whipped when we put out this line-up. But everyone in this team wants to show we got this fight in us to prove something.

"We got the win against Ceres in the Singapore Cup and we rode on that happy mood for our recent victory. We were on the rocks for the last 10 minutes with players going down on cramps, but thankfully we held on and the spirit of the boys was evident.

"These young boys handled themselves very well."

Albirex have suffered consecutive defeats for the first time in recent memory, having lost to Home United in their previous game. Home are now only two points behind the Japanese side, with Tampines a further point behind in third.

"Of course I'm not happy after a second straight loss and it's not good for our players' morale, but we need to analyse and see what we need to improve instead of dwelling on the loss," coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga said.

"We made a mistake for the second goal but these things happen. Also, we lost our centre-back (Yasutaka) Yanagi to suspension; the rest of the defenders cannot handle his height and that's another problem for us.

The two sides will face off again in the Singapore League Cup on Friday.