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Late goals see Woodlands squander dominance

Elwyn Lee

Woodlands players Daniel Hammond and Fabien Lewis
Photography by Aundry Gan

Woodlands Wellington were left kicking themselves as a late comeback from the Courts Young Lions denied them the chance to claim full points at Woodlands Stadium on Friday evening.

Leading 1-0 going into the half-time break thanks to a Moon Soon Ho goal, the northern outfit conceded two goals in the final 13 minutes to end up 1-2 losers.

Robin Chitrakar’s boys celebrated climbing three spots up the table to eighth place, displacing Hougang United, who had reached that position only the evening before when they had beaten Tanjong Pagar United.

For Woodlands, however, the result meant they were firmly rooted to second from bottom, making their encounter with Geylang United next week a potentially decisive battle in determining the destination of the wooden spoon.

Assistant coach Clement Lee, speaking on behalf of Salim Moin at the post-match interview, made no bones over the way the game had gone for his side.

“We are frustrated,” he said.

“It’s really frustrating, because we were working for this for one month. We worked our socks off during the month-long break, looking to make a winning comeback.

“We dominated three-quarters of the game tonight and should have taken something out of it. We’ll – we have to work even harder, cut down on individual errors that we had seen today.

“It’s been eleven games without a win. Frustrating!”

The Rams’ pain was not hard to feel, for they had truly fought tooth and nail for a result.

If they had been away for a month-long break, the manner in which they had started the game did not suggest it, as they eased into proceedings quickly and ran amok for long spells.

Quickly dominating possession, it took them all of 14 minutes to silence the Young Lions supporters when Moon struck an audacious opener.

Picking up the ball from a pass on the right flank, the Korean was curiously left unmarked as he moved towards the edge of the penalty area, and with verve and composure he pulled the trigger firmly.

The ball banged the post on the right side before landing neatly behind the one on the left, leaving Syazwan Buhari gaping in disbelief.

The goal jolted the Young Lions, who tried to fashion a response quickly, but their efforts were tepid and tentative.

With 21 minutes gone, a dangerous free kick from the right by Sherif El-Masri came off Fazli Ayob’s head and straight into the arms of Woodlands custodian Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.

Shortly afterwards, rookie Sufianto Salleh was free in the Woodlands box, but he skied his shot from the edge of the six-yard box.

While the visitors seemed rusty and lacklustre, the Rams were fluid and confident, advancing towards their objective with confidence and efficiency throughout the first half.

This carried on into the early phase of the second, as Salim’s charges were looking to get another goal, knowing that the Young Lions were more than capable of a revival with only one goal to chase.

Yellow shirts buzzed around the visitors’ encampment, and on 48 minutes Goh Swee Swee spotted an opportunity, lobbing a left-footer from outside the box.

The shot caught Syazwan off his line, but the dip came a touch late and the ball landed excruciatingly on the roof of the net.

Sensing that his team needed fresh legs to deal with the Woodlands onslaught, Chitrakar put Nazrul Ahmad Nazari on for a fading Sufianto quickly, and the move put some fizz back into the visitors’ attack.

Within a minute the 21-year-old came blazing down the right flank, and his shot from the right of the six-yard box cracked the outside of Ahmadulhaq’s near post.

But poor passing bedeviled the Young Lions as passes were wasted or otherwise intercepted by the home side, who were always ready with a counterattack to play.

Goh got the better of Young Lions man Sirina Camara down the middle on one such occasion, running clear from the right and seeming all set to raid Syazwan’s goal with Moon in support from the centre.

It could have been a straightforward 2-0 had Goh passed to his teammate, who was in a prime position, but he decided to go it alone, and his feeble attempt from a narrow angle rolled placidly into the arms of a relieved Syazwan.

From then on, the pendulum began to shift as the Young Lions picked up the pace in the final 20 minutes, with Camara and El-Masri deftly pulling the strings from the middle.

On 77 minutes Camara pulled away from two markers with some sublime dribbling skill, and before long he was cantering down the left and into the Woodlands box.

A crisp low pass into space found Nazrul at the far side, and the latter’s connection sent the ball neatly into the right-hand corner of Ahmadulhaq’s goal.

1-1 it was, and all of a sudden it seemed like the Young Lions could win it.

Three minutes from time, they did just that.

Following the trail Camara had blazed for the leveller, El-Masri stormed down his favoured left flank, skipped past the Rams defence and laid off a low pass.

Waiting at the far end this time was Faris Ramli, who surprised many in the stadium by playing in the game at all, but it turned out that winning Nike’s “The Chance” competition recently did not stop him from playing on for the Young Lions.

Riding high on confidence following his personal achievement, he smacked an emphatic volley that flew into the same right corner of the Woodlands goal, giving his team the lead.

That silenced the Rams and their boisterous supporters, even as the hosts huffed and puffed in a bid to restore parity in the final minutes.

Aloysius Yap, who had come on as a substitute early in the second half, could have brought the house down even as regulation time came to an end.

The one-time Balestier Khalsa man was at the end of a good Woodlands buildup that started with captain Daniel Hammond, himself a Tigers alumnus, surging from the rear to aid his side’s rescue efforts.

Hammond’s pass to Goh – who had been with Balestier before himself – was then shuffled on to Yap, who cracked the crossbar with a shot from some 20 yards out, but there was to be no joy for him as the ball came back into play.

A minute later, Fabien Lewis had the final chance of the game when his overhead kick from off a corner looked promising until it sailed a good yard past Syazwan’s left-hand post.

That left the hosts with a bitter pill to swallow, as they have now failed to record a competitive victory since 19 February, when they had beaten Geylang 3-1 at Woodlands.

For Chitrakar and his Young Lions, however, it was a good way to start the second half of their league campaign, after they were given a torrid time for much of the game.

“We had a nervous start,” admitted the former Singapore international.

“It took a while to pick up the pieces and create the chances. With a few new players in the team today, and with (substitute) Zulfahmi Arifin just back, it took a while for us to build up.

“But in the second half, we made the chances and made them count. The mental strength of the boys, coming back from a goal down to finish 2-1 up, speaks well for the fighting spirit of this team.”

  • Woodlands Wellington
  • Courts Young Lions