No more motivational speeches were needed. No more discussing tactics, positions or who to man mark. By this point in his 18 month tenure, the Hougang players were all well aware of Stephens tendencies.
The fact they’d navigated themselves to a league title, the clubs first ever trophy by the way, was at the forefront of everyone connected to Houngangs minds. Winning a league cup double by claiming the upcoming FA Cup final would be the icing on the proverbial cake so to speak
The pre game team talk was more of an informal chat ‘We’ve beaten Warriors already this season, but since we put 4 passed them in the league they’ve signed that Brazilian kid, Rob, what’s his name again?
‘Arturo, or Armaldo, something Spanish or Jewish, I can’t remember’
‘Jewish, from Brazil, are you sure?
‘I don’t know, maybe’
Moron, Stephen thought. But the kids name was actually Antunes, and not only had he just signed for Warriors in the June transfer window, but by the time he took to the field on 16th November, he had managed an impressive 17 goals in all competitions. So you know what happened around 28 minutes into the cup final don’t you?
Yep, Antunes had just scored his 18th goal for Warriors!
Maybe, just maybe the Hougang players were too relaxed in the build up to the game? There’s no doubting that Antunes is a talented kid, not just because he’s in this league, he does have something about him.
‘Are you talking to yourself again man?!?’ Rob Friend screamed at Stephen as the game kicked off following the goal
‘No, I’m planning what to do next’ but it didn’t take long for the complexion of the game to change. Antunes had been running on to through balls all game long, and every time caused problems, but Lady Luck was shining down on Hougang, as on an inch perfect ball from midfield Antunes broke the offside trap, Nick Swirad was left in no mans land as Antunes broke.
The young forward was much quicker than Swirad and left him for dead. Just 25 or so yards separated Antunes from Barudin in the Hougang goal, however as he was about to open his body up to bury the ball into the net, he hobbled to the ground screaming in agony.
Barudin didn’t know what was going on, Swirad continued his run up and stopped when he got to the prone Antunes. Swirad kicked the ball out of play and the medics came on the pitch.
Luckily for Hougang, not so for Warriors, Antunes had snapped his hamstring on that run into the box. 35 minutes into the game and Warriors were forced into a change. The croud applauded as Antunes was stretchered off.
This would be the opening Hougang needed. They got to half time still losing by 1, but the momentum was with them.
‘Stipe, you’re up top in a 3, you 3 in the middle keep it tight. Take it to them and don’t stop. They’re out of options up top and feeling the affects of the young man going off’
Before the second half started, Stephen went into the medical room to offer his condolences to Antunes. ‘It’s just bad luck young man, every player gets injured at some point. Come back and make up for lost time’. Antunes thanked Stephen for the kind words and said he hopes to speak with him again in the future.
The subtle tactical change worked, as within the first 4 minutes of the second half Hougang had scored twice to take the lead. Plazibat tapping into the net from inside the 6 yard box from a Rodriguez knock down, and then turning provider for Rodriguez a minute later to turn the game on it’s head.
Warriors crumbled. With no one to run onto the through balls they kept trying, Swirad and Lounis were clearing the ball for fun. Rodriguez and Plazibat had chance after chance to increase the lead, but Jasni in the Warriors goal kept the score at 2-1 every time. The argument could be that the Hougang forwards should’ve been more clinical, but the keeper was equal to everything else thrown at him.
As the celebrations died down after the game and the Hougang players were finally asked to leave the stadium, Stephen sat there in the dressing room reflecting on a season of unbelievable highs
3 days later, Stephen sat waiting at chairman’s request, at his office at the Hougang Stadium, to discuss plans for next season. The team had already been informed by Stephen and Rob, but discussing it with the chairman would be different.
Stephen has repeated what he’s going to say over and over in his head, at least 100 times, and the decision was only made after the cup final win a few days ago. As the chairman walks in, he smiles at Stephen and sits down. He offers a drink, Stephen politely declines.
He stands up and before the chairman can say anything, he already knows what’s coming. He can sense it. Both mens life had changed immensely in the last 18 months. Both men and the club are in a much better position now than they were when Stephen took over, and both men only wanted to go in one direction, up.
But when those 4 words came from Stephen, there was no pleading, no asking to change his mind, no comeback, just 100 percent gratitude and thanks, and when Stephen said those 4 words, it was the end of a great 18 months that both men would profit from for the rest of their careers, and when he said those 4 words, closure had come.
‘This is the end’
Next part – HEADING NORTH PART i
Previous chapter – FROM QUEBEC TO THE WORLD – DON’T STOP
First chapter – FROM QUEBEC TO THE WORLD – THE BEGINNING