Rams frustrate Bulls to stop rot
Gombak United were held to a frustrating 0-0 stalemate by Woodlands Wellington in a rearranged fixture that was played on Saturday evening at Jurong West Stadium.
After three successive defeats, Woodlands elected to play a containment game against a Bulls side that had been unbeaten in four games, and they just about managed to shut their hosts out for the full 99 minutes of football, including some lengthy injury time.
Gombak had the lion’s share of both possession and goalscoring opportunities throughout, with Woodlands content to simply hit on the break, but despite a late onslaught on the Woodlands goal, the home side failed to find that crucial goal to convert one point into three.
“Our team played very well, except for the finishing part,” summed up Bulls coach K. Balagumaran when he spoke to sleague.com.
“Woodlands knew we’re doing well, and they obviously came with a gameplan for a point today. I knew they could be tough beforehand, but I have no complaints because we had our chances.”
The opening 15 minutes was promising, as both team traded a few chances.
Gombak’s Korean front man Jung Hee Bong found space in the Woodlands box four minutes in, before being closed down by alert Woodlands captain Daniel Hammond, while the Rams’ own Korean spearhead Moon Soon Ho had a wild shot from range a minute later.
A good interchange of play between Julien Durand and Chris Anderson saw the latter hooking wide inside the box on seven minutes.
Soon after on 14, Moon was put through on goal from a great Hussein Akil ball, but he took too long to pull the trigger as Gombak custodian Zaiful Nizam came out to close him down.
The good open start to the game did not last, though, as both teams seemed to lose their ideas and became sluggish in possession, which led to an ebbing sight for both sets of fans for the remainder of the half.
Up-and-coming winger Samuel Benjamin Nadarajah, who was the youngest man on the pitch, belied his tender years by constantly tormenting Woodlands leftback Vincent Lee, and he was a real highlight in the first half.
First, he put in a right-wing cross on 34 minutes which Mustaqim Manzur failed to latch on to, before slaloming his way through the middle and releasing a sizzling shot three minutes later, which Woodlands goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar had to get a strong hand to.
Another intelligent one-two with Durand then created an opening for him inside the box on the stroke of half-time, but he dragged his shot right across the face of goal.
The second half unfortunately continued in the same scrappy manner.
Woodlands had a couple of chances on 57 minutes when Akil’s tame free kick was cleared, before winger Goh Swee Swee cut inside moments later and let fly a rising shot over the bar.
Gombak took all of 18 minutes before fashioning their first opening of the second half. An Ismail Yunos cross saw the ball falling into the path of Durand, who fired over disappointingly right in front of goal.
Impact players K. Vikraman and Hafiz Rahim were then brought on by Balagumaran to up the ante for Gombak, while the Rams mobilised former Tampines trainee Edward Tan to shore up the backline.
That ensured almost total Gombak domination in the final 20 minutes, with the odd Woodlands chance threatening to cause an upset.
Mustaqim headed over from Vikraman’s cross on 68, before Jung attempted a 25-yard grounder that sailed just wide of the post four minutes later.
Moon then had an opportunity at the other end when he cut inside his marker, but the former Super Reds star put his subsequent shot wide.
Tempers flared with twelve minutes remaining when Gombak centreback Walid Lounis got himself into a heated exchange with the Woodlands officials in an attempt to retrieve a loose ball that was rolling towards their bench.
Fiery Woodlands coach Salim Moin berated fourth official Sukhbir Singh in the aftermath of the incident, and had to be calmed down by his colleagues in order not to become only the second coach sent off in three days.
It emerged that strong language was allegedly used in the heat of the moment, although it was unclear which side had started it.
“Walid actually used vulgarities on our team manager (Matthew Tay), so we reacted,” said Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo.
“Well we shouldn’t react. After all, we’re all in this football fraternity for years, we have nothing against him.”
“I saw the incident; the ball went to the opponents’ bench before I saw someone speaking,” reported Balagumaran.
“According to Walid, that guy used some bad language, thus he replied in the same manner.”
The football soon resumed, though, and Hafiz and Lounis wasted chances for Gombak before Mustaqim’s shot was held by Rams custodian Ahmadulhaq.
Woodlands could have reaped maximum dividends for their rearguard action on 85 minutes when Moon was brought down 30 yards from goal, but Tan’s wicked left-footed bender was excellently palmed over by Zaiful.
The game ended in exciting fashion as Gombak huffed and puffed in an attempt to bring the Woodlands house down.
Right on the end of regulation time, Mustaqim slipped a ball through for Jung, whose left-wing cross created an opening for Hafiz to strike a snap-shot just inside the box that rocked the crossbar, before Woodlands centreback Fabien Lewis managed to clear the danger.
Three minutes into injury time, confusion in the Woodlands box led to Obadin Aikhena’s shot being blocked before Anderson’s follow-up went just wide of the post.
The Woodlands fans were relieved, as was Teo when he spoke afterwards.
“I can say this is mission accomplished after three straight losses,” he said with a wry smile.
“We were fortunate to hold on, but the boys worked very hard, and I’m quite happy with their performances because they wanted it. Maybe we could have pressed Gombak a bit more, but as long as we don’t concede, we have every chance to win a game.
Balagumaran meanwhile was left worried by his chief striker Jung’s ongoing goal drought, though he also found time to give his youth brigade some praise and encouragement.
“I’m a bit concerned about Jung’s scoring opportunities, as he’s more of a target man,” he said.
“The strange thing is that the players told me his English is getting better, and he’s starting to communicate with the rest unlike last year. I hope this is not some kind of trade-off!
“I’m encouraging my young players like Nur Naiim (Ishak) and Samuel to communicate with him, as they don’t give instructions and ask Jung what he wants. That’s a problem there, and I think I have to do some training in regard to that.
“Samuel did a lot of damage in the first half, but he’s still very raw and lacking in experience. He’s still gelling in, but again he gave his best.”