Goh sees red in penalty-laden affair
Photography by Aundry Gan
Both the Harimau Muda and their visitors Woodlands Wellington provided some real excitement on Sunday night at Yishun Stadium as the Malaysians eventually edged out the Rams 2-1 on a sodden pitch, after heavy rain the previous day.
The main talking point after the game, however, was not the cut and thrust of the two teams, but the awarding of four penalties by referee K. Kalimuthu, three of which were converted to contribute to the scoreline.
The decisive third penalty on 70 minutes had a red card coming with it too, as Woodlands wingback Goh Swee Swee was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
There were no other goals in the game, largely due to a superb rearguard performance by Woodlands and to the skill of their goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.
Time and again telling tackles inside the box from defenders Fabien Lewis and Daniel Hammond, coupled with some brilliant work by the custodian, denied the attack-minded Harimau Muda.
Woodlands played five defenders along the back, deploying Korean Moon Soon Ho up front with experienced midfielder Farizal Basri providing support just behind him.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Farizal had no end-product to show for his work, despite combining well with Moon.
The Harimau Muda might have been dominant at times, yet Woodlands managed to repeatedly pose a threat with their rapid-fire counterattacks.
They also won a few free kicks, though shots on target were generally limited and no corners were won at all by the visitors, whose fans came in numbers and gave great support.
A ninth-minute free kick awarded to the Rams, whose fans spent the whole game trying to out-sing and out-shout the Malaysian team’s own enthusiastic band of supporters, yielded only a poor effort from Moon that easily cleared the crossbar.
The hosts were giving their own fans plenty to shout about as they persistently made strong runs down either flank, trying to break down the stubborn resistance of a Woodlands team whose status as near neighbours gave this match the flavour of a derby.
A sign that referee Kalimuthu would be kept busy, as the tackles began to fly in, came on 17 minutes when Nazirul Naim fell under a strong challenge from his marker, but the man in the middle waved for play to continue.
It looked as if the official was not going to be influenced by anything other than clear-cut fouls before pointing to the spot, but as the game wore on he seemed to be more convinced of the appeals issuing from players who came to grief near goal.
20 minutes in, as Woodlands began to enjoy their best period of the game, they had their first decent chance in open play through the effervescent Moon.
Farizal played a nice ball through from just inside the Harimau Muda half, and the Korean raced towards goal, but a great saving tackle by Fadhli Shas prevented him from pulling the trigger close to goal.
Woodlands had a free kick just outside the area soon after, and Hammond saw his initial effort blocked, but after Moon’s attempt to pounce on the loose ball was saved, a second reach for the rebound was denied by a tackle that Kalimuthu felt warranted a penalty.
Moon completed the conversion himself and Woodlands had a surprise early lead, though their skill at making the most of their attacking opportunities at that stage of the game appeared to worry Harimau Muda, at least for a while.
Two minutes later, the Rams again broke through as Moon fed Farizal on the left, but the veteran midfielder, looking all set to beat Izham Tarmizi Roslan in goal, switched the ball to his right foot at an inopportune time, allowing the goalkeeper to gather the ball.
It was one of several misses by the journeyman who had an otherwise industrious night, but the Harimau Muda were hardly going to stop admire his work.
In fact the all-action first half saw constant attacking by the Malaysians, and both Wan Zack Haikal and Ahmad Hazwan Bakri had good chances before Moon got away on the right in an effort to extend his side’s 1-0 lead as every opportunity of a counterattack presented itself.
On 32 minutes, Gary Robbat got involved too as he burst through on the left after a good pass from the right by Hazwan, but Ahmadulhaq made a superb save.
A big tackle from Lewis then meant that Hazwan could not seize his chance inside the six-yard box from a clever cutback by Wan Zack.
Eight minutes before the break, Woodlands wingback Edward Tan brought Hazwan down just inside the area on the right, with Kalimuthu this time agreeing that a penalty was warranted.
Up stepped Wan Zack, but his half-hearted effort was saved by the goalkeeper diving to his right, and the visitors retained their slender lead.
They might even have added to it just before half-time when Moon once again fed Farizal, this time on the right, but the latter dwelt too long on the ball and the defence quickly managed to defuse the situation.
The second half was not quite as lively as the first, but certainly just as eventful, with two further penalties being awarded and the unfortunate Goh involved both times.
The 25-year-old had brought down Harimau Muda substitute Wan Zaharulnizam on 46 minutes, but the free kick from Wan Zack was punched away by the redoubtable Ahmadulhaq, and thanks to their goalkeeper the Rams lived on a little longer.
Not for much longer, though, as Robbat continued to present problems, and after Ahmadulhaq had saved twice on 53 minutes from Hazwan and Syahrul Azwari, Goh clumsily challenged Robbat and the burly midfielder took a tumble.
Kalimuthu pointed to the spot, and Robbat stepped up this time instead of Wan Zack, and it must be said his own effort, which was emphatically slammed home, was far more convincing than his teammate’s had been.
So 1-1 it was, with all to fight for, with Woodlands probably hoping to hold on and preserve a precious point, something the home side would never be satisfied with themselves.
A further save from Ahmadulhaq denied Wan Zack, whose free kick on 66 minutes had delivered the ball crisply over the defensive wall, but soon enough the winger was to prove too slippery for Goh, who earned his second booking and thus a red card.
This time Affize Faisal, who was captain for the day, did the honours, and while not as clear-cut as Robbat’s penalty, his low shot down the middle found the net well enough.
Moon meanwhile soldiered on for Woodlands, even after a tiring Farizal had made way for rookie Andy Ahmad.
It needed good work from Nazirul and Fadhli, in turn, to prevent the Korean salvaging something for his side after bursting through on 72 minutes.
One man down for the last 20 minutes, Woodlands could do little more than contain the Harimau Muda by then while hoping for another fast break, but no more came as the minutes ticked away.
By the time the final whistle was blown, an unusual game had come to an end as Woodlands, the two penalties apart, proved sturdy with some brilliant goalkeeping and generally sound defending.
“I have to compliment Woodlands on putting up such strong resistance,” said Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee after the game.
“The pitch was very soft, and the players were all getting very tired, but none of them stopped running right until the very end, and I was pleased with that. I was pleased with my players today.”
Rams assistant coach Clement Teo was brief as he too praised his players.
“Our performance can’t be faulted as every one of the players did well, but when there are four penalties given in a game it is very unusual,” he remarked, the last comment one that was shared by Ong.
Clearly it was not a dirty game at all, despite the send-off and the four spot-kicks awarded, so on a pitch which sapped the players’ strength, perhaps mistakes were made that could have been excused on this occasion.
Whether it was the defenders whose mistimed tackles drew the ire of the referee, or the men teeing up their shot and failing to score who were most inconvenienced by the heavy pitch, we may never know.
But despite the heavy conditions and whatever criticisms that may be levelled at Kalimuthu’s penalty calls, both teams served up some sparkling entertainment for the two vocal groups of fans who kept their banter going long after the final whistle had sounded.