The Garena Young Lions were edged 1-0 by Hougang United FC in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League at Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night.
Justin Hui popped up with the match winner – his first senior goal – on the hour mark for the Cheetahs.
Hougang could have gone ahead after 12 minutes when Nurhilmi Jasni was bundled over in the box, but Iqbal Hussain’s resulting spotkick was saved by Young Lions custodian Zharfan Rohaizad.
Iqbal would come close again against his former side just two minutes later but fired tamely at Zharfan after getting onto the end of Delwinder Singh’s ball from the back.
Iqbal was in inspired form and fired into the side-netting on 20 minutes, before Atsushi Shirota headed straight at Zharfan off Zulfahmi Arifin’s freekick ten minutes later.
The hosts then had an opportunity at the other end nine minutes before the break, but Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin made a fine stop to keep out Ryan Syaffiq’s firm header.
Young Lions were dealt a blow on 57 minutes when Zharfan had to be replaced by Hairul Syirhan due to injury.
The visitors were then denied by the woodwork two minutes later as Hui’s powerful shot crashed off the underside of the bar before half time substitute Antoine Viterale’s rebound was parried by Hairul.
There was no denying Hui however, as he turned home Fabian Kwok’s low left-wing cross from close range to put Philippe Aw’s side in front.
Viterale could have doubled Hougang’s lead in the 63rd minute but he somehow stabbed over at the near post off skipper Nurhilmi’s right-wing delivery.
The Young Lions refused to let their heads drop after going behind and could have restored parity on 65 minutes but Illyas Lee scuffed his shot off a cutback from the right.
Hougang nearly made it 2-0 with 11 minutes remaining when Zulfahmi’s curling freekick from 25 yards came off the upright.
Try as they might, the developmental side were unable to find the equaliser as the game ended 0-1 in the visitors’ favour.
Garena Young Lions Head Coach Vincent Subramaniam highlighted the Young Lions’ defence, saying: “It was a better performance from the team today; we were defensively sound which shows that we are improving. Then again, we cannot take too much credit as Hougang rested a couple of players.
“The second-half performance was much better than the first but we lost by one goal at the end of the day, and a loss is still a loss. It was a close game today but these boys can work and it will be interesting to see how we do against Tampines (Rovers) next on Saturday.”
Garena Young Lions: Zharfan Rohaizad (GK, C) (Hairul Syirhan 57’), Rusyaidi Salime, Amirul Adli, Faizal Roslan, Syahrul Sazali, Illyas Lee, Armin Maier (Shameer Aziq 59’), Hami Syahin, Zulqarnaen Suzliman, Ryan Syaffiq (Haiqal Pashia 74’), Taufik Suparno