Jaguars rise to eighth with third straight win
Photography courtesy of Tanjong Pagar United
Slowly but surely, Tanjong Pagar United are getting out of their doldrums.
After claiming two scalps over frontrunners Home United and Balestier Khalsa on home soil, a road trip to struggling Woodlands Wellington on Friday evening could have been a potential banana slip, but all credit to the Jaguars, who kept their concentration in this tricky clash.
They eventually prevailed narrowly again, a wonderful individual goal and some organised defending combining to see them survive a red card in a scruffy affair that ended 1-0.
The clincher came after only 18 minutes.
From a throw on the right, winger Serge Souchon cut inside and held off the attentions of Woodlands leftback Duncan David Elias, before letting fly with a left-footed thunderbolt just outside the box that flew past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.
It was a hammer blow to the hosts, who came into this game trying to get back to basics with a straight-up 4-4-2 formation that included key defender Fabien Lewis, back in action after spending three weeks away settling some personal matters.
While having Lewis back did not obviously improve the team’s performance, Lebanese forward Hussein Akil managed to show some attacking strength all the same, firing two shots wide and having a third blocked by Hanafi Salleh in the box.
Winger Goh Swee Swee also had a crack at the Tanjong Pagar goal from long range, although this time he fired wildly over.
By comparison, the Jaguars showed slightly more promise in attack in the first half, with key man Takaya Kawanabe’s grounder deflected just wide, while Azhar Ahmad scuffed a volley after a good move between Kawanabe and Aliff Shafaein that exploited the hosts’ high backline.
The momentum carried into the second period, when Kawanabe thumped wide early on and Azhar’s snap-shot just outside the box forced Ahmadulhaq down low for a good parry.
That was the wingback’s last contribution, though, as promising winger S. Vikneshwaran came on to replace him on 56 minutes for an attack-minded change.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they had to rewrite their tactics yet again three minutes later when Jonathan Xu was booked for a challenge on Goh.
Having picked up a yellow card earlier in the first half, the experienced defender had to go off for an early shower, leaving Tanjong Pagar to play with ten men for the last half-hour.
It was a situation that Jaguars coach Terry Pathmanathan felt the experienced Xu should have handled better.
“The first yellow was silly as he kicked the ball away (after a foul),” noted the former Singapore international.
“After you got the first yellow card, you literally become a walking time bomb. If the referee views your next tackle as a foul, you’re out.
“Sometimes players have to learn how the Laws of the Game are implemented. I hope he learns from this, and I don’t want to see this happens again.”
To compensate for the numerical disadvantage, Pathmanathan pushed Vikneshwaran back to rightback and also had Aliff move into a more withdrawn position at left midfield, leaving Kawanabe isolated up front.
Salim Moin reacted by bringing on Prime League winger Oswind Suriya Rosaryo for K. Sathiaraj, having already sent attacker Guntur Djafril on for midfielder Aloysius Yap.
For all the changes that Woodlands made, however, they huffed and puffed to little effect.
Shamsurin Abdul Rahman had a wild attempt that went over, off-form forward Moon Soon Ho fired high from close range, and Goh had two efforts that did not find the back of the net either.
Akil was the only one who seriously threatened to beat Fajar Sarib, who denied him from a snap-shot on 59 minutes with a great reflex save and pushed away another effort on 73.
By this time, Tanjong Pagar were happy to sit back and play for the counter, and they did have their chances even then.
Kawanabe nodded wide from an Aliff cross on the right on 76, before pulling too wide in another attack seven minutes later.
The Japanese forward eventually put the ball in the back of the net two minutes later, but was harshly adjudged to be offside.
Four minutes of added time were flashed on fourth official Sukhbir Singh’s board, and the Rams nearly equalised midway through that period.
Woodlands captain Daniel Hammond, who was pushed up front in the dying minutes, nearly got something out of the switch when he produced a great swivel-and-turn shot just outside the box, but his grounder smacked right off the left-hand post with Fajar rooted to the spot.
That was the last piece of action, leaving Rams assistant coach Clement Teo a disappointed man, with his team not tasting victory since the opening two fixtures.
“You could see the frustration, isn’t it?” he commented.
“The players were shouting and the morale is low. We still stand by what we say, ‘we win as a team, and we lose as a team’. It’s an off-day for the team.
“When we lose games, it’s an easy excuse to say we don’t have the luck, but put bluntly, we didn’t do well, especially in the first half.
“Strangely, every time in preparation, we saw what we wanted from the players but in crucial games like this we just could not manage to apply what we have done in training.”
On the other hand, Pathmanathan was left satisfied by his team’s recent improvement, as they collected their first three points on the road in 2012.
“It’s our first away win and we have excelled in three successive games,” noted the 56-year-old.
“Overall the team did extremely well in this tough game. We had to work doubly hard with a man down, but the players never stopped working, they showed what they are made of.
“I’m extremely happy with their attitude and determination today. Woodlands were really going out there to get the goal, and we were quite fortunate they had one shot that hit the post.”
Pathmanathan also reserved praise for goal hero Souchon.
“He did well today,” he remarked.
“It was good decision-making and a well-taken shot on his part. He took responsibility and got us the goal.”
With the first round of fixtures coming to a close and a three-week mid-season break coming, the Jaguars now lie in a healthy eighth position, while the Rams continue to slide to second from bottom.
Both coaches are however aiming for further moves up the table.
“I think we did beyond expectations in the first round in spite of lots of injuries,” commented Pathmanathan.
“We have to keep this momentum after the break. Hopefully we can move as far up as possible in the table.”
Teo meanwhile explored the importance of regrouping in this difficult period.
“It’s a good break for us, but there’s a lot of hard work to be done, having not won in nine games,” he said.
“We’ve told the boys ‘Look, we don’t have any superstars, so we just have to work very hard’. In the second round, we should look forward to better performances as well as trying to move up the table.”