Woodlands make profligate Young Lions pay penalty
Moon Soon Ho’s penalty conversion early in the second half was sufficient for Woodlands Wellington to secure three points against the Courts Young Lions in the teams’ opening match of the 2012 S.League season.
The Korean slotted home confidently past Syazwan Buhari on 49 minutes after the goalkeeper brought Moon down following a defensive error by Gary Loo.
Woodlands then survived wave after wave of Young Lions pressure right up to the end of the match, Ahmadulhaq Che Omar having a particularly busy night as he was bombarded by the men in red from all directions.
The new man between the sticks for the Rams was however equal to them all and earned his team a hard-fought victory at Jalan Besar.
The visitors were fortunate not to go into the break a goal or more down after the home team came very close on a number of occasions. Haniff Ja’ffar Sadique, Shahfiq Ghani, Benjamin Lee and captain Hafiz Abu Sujad all had attempts on goal for the Young Lions, but the back of the net eluded them.
“In a way, we were lucky to collect all three points,” commented Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo.
“We were very fortunate, especially in the first half, but take nothing away from the boys. They did well and credit to them for playing better in the second half.
“We were basically giving them too much room to play in the first half and were not settled. In the second half, we did not allow them room to play and if you noticed, the penalty was the result of that pressure.
“I think it is fantastic that we’ve gotten three points. We really wanted it.”
Woodland are now third in the league after the first round of matches, being just one of three teams to secure all three points.
Remarkably, they needed 13 tries to earn themselves their first win in the S.League last year, while in 2010 they were winless after the first six league games.
Teo, however, was quick to play that down.
“Whether we win three points, one point or nothing at all, we just want to look at things game by game,” he commented when told of the feat.
For the Young Lions, however, this match was in a way a reflection of the same problem they faced last season. Able to perform well and create chances, the young men found converting those very chances into goals a far harder task.
This was especially evident in the first half, when Haniff sent a shot just wide while Shahfiq fired straight at Ahmadulhaq in the opening minutes.
Possession solely belonged to the Young Lions during this period, and they continued to pile on the pressure, with Sherif El-Masri whipping in a dangerous cross on 15 minutes, and Lee saw a shot saved by Ahmadulhaq two minutes later.
There was a brief moment when Duncan David Elias threatened the Young Lions’ goal when he whipped in a dangerous free kick that went just wide, but the momentum of the match swung the way of the home side soon after as Hafiz forced Ahmadulhaq into another save before he launched a shot from distance over the bar.
It looked like it was only a matter of time that the Young Lions would score as their attacking combination of El-Masri, Lee, Shahfiq and Haniff tormented a sloppy and sluggish Woodlands defence, yet somehow the Rams held on.
Arguably the best chance of the half came just before the half-time whistle. Haniff sprinted down the right flank before sending a low cross to a lurking Shahfiq, standing at the penalty spot. However, with the goal at his mercy, he pulled his shot wide, much to the relief of a floored Ahmadulhaq.
Shahfiq would have certainly thought he would get another chance in the second half, but it was an entirely transformed Woodlands side that came out of the dressing room.
Head coach Salim Moin must have given his team a dressing-down, because they were a lot quicker in closing down their opponents and were sharper with their passing.
And it took just four minutes for that work to pay off.
Young Lions centreback Loo took too long to release his pass as the Young Lions tried to build up from the back, and he was caught in possession by an alert Moon.
The former Super Reds star was then brought down in the area by Syazwan as he surged into a dangerous position, and referee Ahmad A’qashah immediately pointed to the spot.
Moon then dispatched the penalty easily to give Woodlands the lead, to roaring approval from the Rams fans among the 668-strong crowd.
He almost doubled the team’s lead soon after, but it was the Young Lions who piled on the pressure in an attempt to salvage a game they looked destined to win at the start.
An attempt by Hafiz on 70 minutes from the edge of the area was right down Ahmadulhaq’s throat, while substitute Faris Ramli’s shot was also blocked as the Young Lions tried to break down the stubborn Woodlands defence.
Despite occasional signs of nerves, though, the Rams held strong and frustrated the Young Lions strikers. Lee blasted over from a Faris cutback on 82 minutes, and moments later, the last proper chance of the match fell to late entry Navin Vanu, who cut past two players before firing his effort wastefully wide.
“We’re definitely not pleased with the result,” said Young Lions head coach Robin Chitrakar in the post-match interview.
“I think we did enough to collect all three points. Not to do that was the biggest disappointment for me.
“Of course, the performance was good, but playing well for 90 minutes and going home empty-handed is hard. The boys really felt it, but hopefully, this performance is a sign of things to come; we want three points from our matches, any of them.
“Their goalkeeper did everything right today and it was very unfortunate for us that he kept everything out,” he quickly added.
“Right now, we need to improve on putting the ball in the net. That is the important thing.”
The Young Lions will attempt to get their game on track against Hougang United next Friday at Jalan Besar Stadium, while Woodlands will hope to continue their winning ways against Geylang United at Woodlands Stadium two days later.