Moon-struck SAFFC made to settle for draw
Photography by Aundry Gan
Woodlands Wellington’s Moon Soon Ho was the star of the show as his side twice took the lead against longtime S.League kingpins SAFFC at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday.
The Warriors came back to salvage a 2-2 draw in the end, but with their title chase fast fading even before a third of the season had been completed, they were left to think about what could have been if they had done a better job to nullify the Korean threat.
Instead their defence crumbled once again, allowing the 31-year-old to beam in a brace that raised his season-long tally to four games.
When Moon’s rapier shot from 18 yards out on 14 minutes came close to hitting the inside of custodian Shahril Jantan’s netting, it was an ominous sign of things to come.
A minute later, he struck for real.
Tagged inside the SAFFC box by man-marker Noh Rahman, he stepped past the Singapore international’s left and neatly tapped a delicate volley beneath Shahril’s outstretched right arm.
The Warriors quickly drew level six minutes later when Mislav Karoglan connected well with a Tatsuro Inui free kick from the left, the curling delivery coming into the six-yard area as the striker met it head-on with potent force.
It was just the kind of bright start that the game needed, with both sides coming into this game on the back of defeats and desperately craving the points to clamber away from their pre-match places in the middle of the league table.
SAFFC especially were in unfamiliar surroundings, normally more accustomed as they are to a spot close to if not at the top of the table.
Eighth position was, to put it bluntly, the domain of the less mighty sides – and so the eight-time S.League champions charged frenetically to find a way out of their current rut.
Karoglan’s quick low pass to Fazrul Nawaz at the left of the Woodlands box should have put the Warriors ahead on 23 minutes, but the latter, with only Ahmadulhaq Che Omar to beat, lacked sharpness as he placed the ball into the frame of the Rams custodian.
Three minutes past the half-hour mark, a long-distance effort from Shukor Zailan was turned over the crossbar by the arcing frame of Ahmadulhaq, a double-palmed push doing enough to keep the Rams on par.
The players came back biting after the breather, Moon and Karoglan looking dangerous for their respective sides as they prowled menacingly at either end of the Jalan Besar green.
Inui’s free kick from the right on 53 minutes looked good for a goal as a quartet of SAFFC players meshed within the six-yard box in anticipation, but the defensive lock guarded by Rams captain Daniel Hammond proved well-placed.
The Rams were pressing over at the other end too, seasoned defender Daniel Bennett holding the line firmly against Moon with a cool header back to Shahril as the Korean looked threatening coming from his right.
A quick reverse play then provided Fazrul the chance to delight the SAFFC fans, but the forward was tetchy with his finish as the cross from the left bobbled off his knee yards from goal and rolled out of play to the groans of the 500 or so present.
Moon was rising to the occasion, and when Farizal Basri laced him a pinpoint cross near the penalty mark on 62 minutes, the lead should have come for the Rams, except that the ball hit the wall behind the goal instead.
Still, the former Super Reds star was the man of the moment for his side, always looking good for another strike on the night.
That happened at last on 66 minutes as a pass from midfield found Moon down the right, and with the SAFFC defenders fast tiring, the Woodlands No.10 jinked his way into the box and thumped a low shot that found its way into the narrowest of crevices.
If that was a good goal from start to finish, then the Warriors’ equaliser that came in the next minute merited equal awe.
Ruzaini Zainal was sent a cross-field pass that he caught on to out on the right, and from a tricky angle that looked an acute challenge, the rising shot by the 23-year-old thumped the underside of the Woodlands crossbar and bounced just over the line.
That created a moment of uncertainty until the assistant referee’s flag went up, and referee W. Ravisanthiran cleared any doubts with a blow of his whistle for the ball to be placed at the starting spot.
With the scores tied at 2-2, the match looked good for another goal when Shimpei Sakurada unleashed a piledriver that saw Ahmadulhaq pulling off a two-handed palm away.
And so Woodlands took another useful point to further widen the gap on the teams below them, while the Warriors were frustrated as their position in the league table remained unchanged.
Richard Bok reflected on the dismal loss of two crucial points for his SAFFC team, even if they did manage to salvage one.
“Credit must go to Woodlands, they didn’t give up the fight, but our performance was below par today,” he assessed.
“We had the chances, we played strongly, but we found it more difficult to find the opportunities. We looked lethargic, one-dimensional of sorts.
“Defensively we have to improve as well; we have scored 16 but have conceded the same number – something we have to remedy. We have to be more clinical up front, but at the back we really need to work on tightening up to prevent some soft goals.”
Bok further attested to his worry about the widening gap between his side and the teams at the top.
“I am concerned,” said the 42-year-old pensively.
“There is a six-point gap between us and the top teams and with games in hand, DPMM and the Harimau Muda can go nine points ahead.
“We have 17 games to go with the changed home-and-away structure that now cuts down the number of games we play. We have catching up to do and fewer games to do it with.”
Rams assistant coach Clement Teo meanwhile attributed his side’s performance to belief and good tactical play.
“Our showing today was down to the belief of the team,” he noted at the post-match press conference.
“Our technical play also helped. We have been preparing for this game.
“We played well, we scored first and then conceded both times, and I would rate the players’ performance as very good today. Basically our 3-4-3 formation today was tactically astute.
“The boys were disappointed not to take the win, the loss of full points was sad after we had gone ahead twice. But that is football.
“We still showed what we are capable of and will build from here. Some of our key players like Hussein (Akil) were out injured today, but we proved Woodlands are a team, not just about individual players; we showed that no one player is bigger than the club.”