Woodlands claim long-awaited third win
Photography by Aundry Gan
Woodlands Wellington took just 12 minutes early on to find the net three times, but they almost let their 3-0 lead slip before hanging on to beat Tanjong Pagar United 3-2 on a waterlogged Queenstown Stadium pitch on Sunday evening.
It was only the third time this season that the Rams collected maximum points, and it was also their first victory since winning back-to-back games at the start of the campaign.
The afternoon rain did little to dampen the spirit of the Woodlands players, and Goh Swee Swee’s header sandwiched between two Moon Soon Ho goals gave them the perfect start to the match as they looked to seal the points early on.
A decision to sit on that lead almost backfired, however, as Tanjong Pagar scored through Asraf Abdul Rashid before the break to reduce the deficit, before Takaya Kawanabe gave the visitors a nervous finale with a penalty strike just before the hour mark.
In the end, Woodlands managed to hang on, and while the three points did nothing to change their position at the bottom of the table, the Jaguars were denied the chance to go above Geylang United in eleventh spot.
Terry Pathmanathan promptly took responsibility for the failure to better last season’s league position, effectively announcing his departure from the club in the process.
“Nothing can be said about the match,” said the 56-year-old.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on the game. It is frustrating, but I don’t want to vent my frustrations on anybody.
“As the coach, I take responsibility for whatever happened in the season.
“I don’t want to say much, but since I couldn’t achieve the targets set, I would bow out of the team. I can only wish the team club success in future seasons.”
The match exploded into life as Woodlands took the lead as early as the third minute.
A free kick was only half-cleared by a sluggish Tanjong Pagar defence as the players were still trying to organise themselves, and the ball fell to the feet of a lurking Moon, who volleyed home to give the Rams the early advantage.
The hosts were still trying to recover from that setback when Woodlands struck again from another dead-ball play just two minutes later.
This time, the Jaguars failed to track Goh’s run, and the 26-year-old turned the ball into the net comfortably.
Woodlands were nowhere near done at this early stage, and it was not long before they scored yet again.
Moon caught the Jaguars defence napping as he bore down on goal along the left flank, and in a moment of panic, Hanafi Salleh slid in to halt his progress just as he entered the box.
Referee Muhd Taqi immediately pointed to the spot and booked Hanafi for his challenge, before Moon picked himself up to tuck the penalty into the corner to give his side a 3-0 lead within the first twelve minutes.
It was as good a start as Woodlands fans could remember for some time, and with a comfortable advantage, the Rams chose to let the Jaguars come at them, hitting on the counterattack instead.
It was not the soundest of choices, as the Rams defence looked particularly vulnerable to early crosses, and Tanjong Pagar used this route to find their first goal of the evening ten minutes before the interval.
A barrage of probing first-time crosses rained down on the Woodlands box and Kawanabe volleyed wide from one such delivery on 31 minutes.
The Japanese ended up being more suitable as provider than as finisher, however, as he threaded a pass through to Asraf, who made no mistake from the left side of the area.
A minute later, Hafiz Nor came close to slashing the deficit further, but his shot was straight at Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.
The second half was a little more open, with Moon extremely lively for Woodlands, who had quieted down after the fierce start in the first half.
The former Super Reds star had a shot saved soon after the restart, before he blasted over from a good position.
At the other end, Kawanabe proved to be a handful for the Rams defence as well, firing a close-range effort that was turned out for a corner and then heading over the bar soon after.
Tanjong Pagar were looking the likelier to score, and they got themselves a lifeline when Hafiz made a darting run into the area, only to be abruptly halted by Fabien Lewis, who got a yellow card for his troubles.
Kawanabe made no mistake from the spot to bring the scores to 2-3 and set up a tense final 30 minutes of the season.
The 23-year-old thought he had levelled for the hosts on 71 minutes when he directed a cross by Hafiz towards the bottom corner.
Ahmadulhaq made a good diving save, however, to maintain his side’s now-slender lead.
The hosts finished the stronger side as they desperately sought the equaliser, but that third goal simply did not come.
Hafiz was unlucky to hit the post, before he had another shot blocked in the final minute of play as Woodlands clung on for a priceless win.
“It is a good way to end the season,” said Rams assistant coach Clement Teo, speaking on behalf of his head coach Salim Moin as always.
“I was not really surprised that we were able to take a 3-0 lead. We have always believed that we can play this way, and finally at the end of the season, we managed to get the win.
“This is what we have been doing, and this is what we know we can do. There is no difference in the mentality of the players in this match and other matches.
“We ended the season with a win and we will definitely be better next year,” he promised in concluding his remarks.
“It’ll be a better team next year. It’ll be more exciting and interesting, but we definitely wouldn’t be right at the bottom again.”