Win over gutsy Rams sets Home back on track
Photography by Ko Po Hui
S.League title contenders Home United got their bid back on track with a hard-fought 3-1 win over strugglers Woodlands Wellington at Bishan Stadium on Saturday evening.
A surprisingly enterprising game was played out between both teams, and while the visitors ended up losing, at least they made sure the home side slogged hard for their three points.
Lebanese forward Hussein Akil stunned the home crowd by levelling things up at the stroke of half-time, after Frederic Mendy had opened the scoring for the Protectors two minutes earlier.
That was just reward for a first half in which the unfancied Rams took the game to their opponents, with goalscorer Akil and strike partner Moon Soon Ho creating havoc in tandem.
However, an absolute howler in defence just after the break led to Mendy finding the net again, breaking any sort of rhythm or morale boost that could have come from the equaliser.
Eventually the lanky Frenchman ensured the three points for his side by completing his hat-trick eleven minutes before the end.
“We had our chances, especially in first few minutes, where Home were taken aback by us,” said Rams assistant coach Clement Teo.
“But this is football; you don’t take those chances, and that’s what you get.
“After conceding the second goal, our players were struggling to get back into momentum and didn’t show as much energy. That was so early, just the second minute (into the second half)!
“I think we just fell short after that. This is one of those things that we have to work on,”
As Teo had observed, Woodlands raced to a barnstorming start in the first half, creating three openings within the first three minutes.
Moon smacked an ambitious volley over within seconds of kickoff, and soon after, he latched on to a lofted pass from Shamsurin Abdul Rahman and cut inside two Home defenders before seeing his shot closed down by Lionel Lewis.
From the resulting corner, Goh Swee Swee took advantage of a Lewis flap to head the loose ball towards goal, but Nor Azli Yusoff was perfectly placed to clear off the line.
Home eventually settled down after the Woodlands flurry, Mendy sizing up nicely with a number of shots as the visitors were subject to wave after wave of probing play.
Others were involved too, Shotaro Ihata’s header from a Shi Jiayi cross on 25 minutes lacking the power to trouble Ahmadulhaq Che Omar in the Woodlands goal before Qiu Li stung his palms with a fierce snap-shot from just outside the box minutes later.
From the resulting corner, Shi’s header beat the goalkeeper but not the crossbar.
Qiu produced a sudden change of pace on the left on 40 minutes, before cutting inside and firing just past the left-hand post, while Mendy had a close-range grounder tipped wide.
It was hardly one-way traffic, though, as the Rams created two excellent openings which were spurned by Akil.
And they paid the price when Home took the lead on 43 minutes.
Nor Azli went on a good overlapping run down the right flank, before producing a peach of a cross that evaded the whole Woodlands backline en route to an unmarked Mendy, who had the easy task of nodding the ball past Ahmadulhaq from six yards out.
Home were however quickly hit with a sucker punch a couple of minutes later.
The ever-dangerous Moon held the ball up from a long play before chipping through for Akil, who cleverly lifted the ball over the advancing Lewis, sending a noisy contingent of away fans into jubilation while leaving Home coach Lee Lim Saeng flabbergasted on the bench.
“Actually, after we scored, I disclosed to assistant coach Baek (Jong Seok) that we might concede soon,” he said wryly at the post-match press conference.
“Then after almost two minutes, we really conceded!”
Akil’s goal might have made Rams coach Salim Moin’s team talk easier at half-time, but a howler right after the break threw his tactics board into disarray.
A harmless long ball on 47 minutes was somehow inexplicably spilled by Ahmadulhaq inside his own penalty area, as he went with a one-handed save when it was far safer to use both.
Rookie fullback Danny Chew also failed to make any contact with his attempted clearance, leading to the leather falling into the path of a bemused Mendy, who had the simplest of tasks as he volleyed into the gaping net.
Teo was keen to absolve Chew of any blame for his part in the goal.
“That is one of those things, you won’t say it’s complacency,” he insisted.
“In terms of judgment, it was not a good call and he did not communicate well with Ahmadulhaq. Things like this happen though, as he’s a player who has never even played at amateur level.
“He didn’t represent any club, we just plucked him from a social league. We’re giving such young players opportunities at this club.”
The opportunity came at a cost to the Rams, though, as that goal absolutely shattered their psychology while Home proceeded to take control.
They did not trouble Ahmadulhaq much, though; all they could muster was a ballooned shot by Shi that cleared the bar on 62 and a Qiu volley that went wide on 66.
Woodlands did have a chance to hit straight back initially on 52 minutes when Rosman Sulaiman pulled Moon down just outside the box, but the latter’s resulting free kick was easy for Lewis.
The Korean then found himself through on goal from Akil’s pass on 74 minutes, but his shot was again denied by the goalkeeper.
With legs beginning to tire, both sides proceeded to make changes midway through, as Firdaus Idros came on for Ihata while one-time Home man Farizal Basri came on to face his old side together with Guntur Djafril.
But it was the same long pair of legs for Home who got the clincher, as Mendy was picked out smartly by Qiu and cut inside Daniel Hammond before rifling a shot under Ahmadulhaq’s reach and into goal from close range.
Protectors coach Lee expressed his satisfaction at a result that came despite his defensive woes.
“I need to think about the defence; Kenji (Arai) is waiting for his operation, so Rosman has to play with Franklin (Anzite),” he explained.
“Rosman was also out for a long time, so he’s not fully fit. And when Moon gave us problems and we’re not stable in the centre, I changed the system in the second half.
“I would like to thank Jiayi as he can play in any position. Sometime I play him as centre midfielder, sometimes rightback or centreback or even leftback, anything except goalie!
“I’m happy with this win, as we cannot afford to lose these three points. Sometimes we play well but never get a result, like against Tanjong Pagar (United), so you can say we’re lucky but I say it’s important to win.”
Meanwhile Teo acknowledged the Rams were feeling the pain of dealing with the continued absence of defender Fabien Lewis.
“Fabien’s one of those players who are strong and committed,” he reasoned.
“Without him, we have makeshift defenders to play with Hammond. If he was here, he will definitely make Hammond’s job easier and ensure Mendy won’t pull away and have such an easy time.
“As for our forwards, we’re trying out Hussein up front. He’s not an out-and-out striker, but we are pushing him there due to his hard work and physique.
“Moon has speed but now more people know who this guy is, so they’re going to make sure they’re close to him so that he won’t turn. Akil’s another route out for us.”