League Cup: Hammond goal gives Woodlands hope
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
Woodlands Wellington retained their interest in the StarHub League Cup competition after holding Gombak United to a 1-1 draw at Woodlands Stadium on Monday evening.
The result leaves the northern side propping up Group D, behind the Bulls on goal difference, but they still have a mathematical chance of qualifying depending on the outcome of the final group game between Gombak and leaders Tampines Rovers.
Centreback Daniel Hammond was the hero for the Rams, cancelling out the opening goal by Gombak defender Walid Lounis with a rare shot from open play.
The visitors were reduced to ten men with twenty minutes remaining when forward Iqbal Hamid Hussain collected his second yellow card of the evening, but by then the match had already lost much of the intensity shown in the opening half-hour.
Iqbal started up front for a Gombak side filled with many experienced local players, as a stomach bug forced Englishman Christopher Anderson to join Frenchman Julien Durand and Korean Jung Hee Bong on the bench.
Woodlands goalkeeper Ang Bang Heng meanwhile retained his starting place despite Ahmadulhaq Che Omar completing a suspension carrying over from the 2011 edition, while midfielders Goh Swee Swee, Aloysius Yap and Han Yiguang all made the starting eleven.
The match started in low-key fashion with the Woodlands Stadium stands sparsely populated, although it was Gombak rather than their hosts who settled down more quickly and offered more of the initial pressure.
Woodlands quickly got into the swing of things themselves, though, and it was soon apparent that this would be a keenly-contested duel between two sides eager to shake off their reputations as goal-shy outfits.
Rams forward Moon Soon Ho pulled a long-range shot on the quarter-hour mark that forced Zaiful Nizam into tipping the ball onto the crossbar, and he nearly tested the goalkeeper again with a free kick two minutes later.
But the hosts were given a sucker punch on 21 minutes when they froze in the face of a short corner routine started by Mustaqim Manzur, and Lounis raised a foot to send the ball home amid stunned silence from the Woodlands fans.
At least the players roused themselves into searching for a quick response, and Goh fired a stinging drive from the right flank that stung Zaiful’s palms just two minutes after the goal.
It took only another two minutes for the Rams to go level, as the ball broke loose to Hammond after Moon was tripped by Obadin Aikhena and everyone else on the pitch appeared to expect a free kick, not a direct shot from the well-travelled Englishman.
A shot did come from around the edge of the area, though, and this time there was nothing Zaiful could do to prevent the ball from going in.
From then on both teams tried to push for a goal in the remaining minutes of the first half, primarily through free kicks and corners, but fine work from both goalkeepers on the field kept the score at 1-1 going into the interval.
The second half did not start quite as promisingly as the first, as the drop in intensity quickly became clear, although both sides still had chances to score.
Ang in particular did very well to foil Iqbal from close range on 51 minutes, after a good move on the right flank culminated in a ball into the box from overlapping fullback Ismail Yunos.
Jung’s presence on the pitch as a half-time substitute appeared to change his team’s playing approach, as his teammates tried to find him with long balls aimed at using his height.
But while the 26-year-old was able to get his head to the ball fairly often, it was often hard to spot a second red shirt in support who would latch on to his nod-ons.
If Gombak were leaning on their Korean forward, though, Woodlands were doing the same, and Moon either rushed into shots or found himself firmly kept in check by a typically-strong Bulls rearguard.
It did not help that Navin Vanu, who started on the left but drifted into more of a free role in the second half, was having a forgettable evening, enduring difficulties in getting past defenders and getting proper shots on Zaiful’s goal.
In comparison, Iqbal was having a decent game for the visitors with his harrying up front, but a silly second yellow card on 70 minutes, just as K. Balagumaran was preparing to take him off, left Gombak with ten men.
By then they had slipped into a more defensive stance, and it took Aikhena’s strength to hold two Woodlands attackers off and relieve the pressure on 73 minutes as Zaiful stumbled in his area.
Moon then smacked a header straight into an upright with ten minutes remaining, before Vanu scuffed a shot from the edge of the six-yard box on 85 when it seemed easier to tee Oswind Rosaryo’s tee-up home.
More late pressure then came and went as Woodlands failed to find a winner, but the fact that they did not lose was relief enough as they held on to hopes of playing in the quarterfinals.
Teo praises Rams for commitment
Woodlands Wellington assistant coach Clement Teo was pleased to see his players keep up their hopes of advancing into the StarHub League Cup quarterfinals following a 1-1 draw with Gombak United.
Praising the team for showing good commitment throughout the game, he stressed the importance of that value in producing some of the better results for the northerners this season.
“It was very good, they did what they should do, and in terms of commitment we can’t fault them,” he told sleague.com.
“This was what we did from day one, which got us some results earlier. The boys gave their best, which is very important to us, because this is a team where we are all workers.
“It’s all about mistakes, this game. For Daniel Hammond to push all the way up and shoot, you needed a mistake too.
“But everybody at this club has been trying very hard, working very hard. This makes everybody in the technical team quite happy with their effort.”
Woodlands may yet be shut off from the main tournament, however, as Gombak still have a game to play against Tampines Rovers on Thursday evening.
While Tampines are favourites to win in that match, Gombak can still qualify at the Rams’ expense if they can avoid losing by three goals or more, thus staying ahead of the 2010 finalists on goal difference.
“It’s beyond our control, basically; Tampines still have to play Gombak,” said Teo.
“We hope to go on to the main competition, but as much we want to, it all depends on what happens on the day itself. If Tampines were to rest players, which we anticipate they will, then it’s anybody’s game.”
Bulls head coach K. Balagumaran meanwhile revealed that a late illness that limited Christopher Anderson’s participation in the match had a significant impact, adding that he had intended to send the Englishman on in place of Iqbal Hamid Hussain just before the latter was sent off.
“We couldn’t go according to our plan, because Chris wasn’t feeling well,” he said.
“We were supposed to start him at rightback and put Ismail (Yunos) on the left, since Nurullah (Hussein) had not been training with us lately because of school exams. But when Chris had a stomach upset and couldn’t start, we had to make some changes.
“I think Iqbal did well, he was quite dangerous and gave the runs I wanted, and I had to take Mus (Manzur) out early because he got injured. I was just about to get Chris to warm up and replace Iqbal when he got a red card, but in football sometimes you’re that unlucky!”