Indifferent Protectors collect draw with Rams
Photography by Aundry Gan
Home United head coach Lee Lim Saeng did not get the industrious team performance he was privately expecting as his side scrapped to a goalless stalemate with Woodlands Wellington in an S.League fixture at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday evening.
The Korean’s place at the Bishan-based club next season was recently confirmed in a press statement, yet this match, the first since the announcement, revealed the extent of the overhaul needed if he is to get his way and assemble a squad truly capable of title contention.
Some red shirts’ displays would have been a note of particular concern for Lee, and the result would not have helped either as Home remained in fifth spot, leaving them vulnerable in the race against Balestier Khalsa to finish as the second best Singaporean outfit in the league.
It was, without question, a far cry from the determined comeback the Protectors had demonstrated in a 2-1 victory over Tanjong Pagar United only last week.
Lee had thanked his players for their effort on that occasion, yet he had a lot less to be grateful for in an uneven performance from his charges, with several showing spirit and desire, only to find a few others not looking nearly as willing.
Curiously, the established trio of Lionel Lewis, Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li were not sighted anywhere near the stadium, amid rumours linking their futures away from the Protectors next season.
While all three were understood to be injured or otherwise unfit, the fact that they did not join Franklin Anzite, who watched the game with interest from the stands, sent a puzzling message to observers who noticed their absence.
With defenders Anzite and Rosman Sulaiman still injured, it was left to stand-in goalkeeper Nazri Sabri to fill in for Lewis again between the posts, with a makeshift midfield partnership of Korean Song Ui Young and Rhysh Roshan Rai patrolling the middle of the park.
The absence of the usual stalwarts was keenly felt by Home when a tentative backpass to Nazri was fumbled within minutes of the opening whistle, prompting referee Ahmad A’qashah to give an indirect free kick to Woodlands.
Goh Swee Swee’s skied attempt from five yards out in the resulting play was the best either team could muster in a game where both faced a challenge to combine effort with intensity when little was at stake.
Still, the Rams’ overall performance belied their unwanted status as wooden spoonists for the third consecutive season, and their committed endeavours were nearly rewarded twice before the break.
Midway in the first half, club top scorer Moon Soon Ho fed the ball to Oswind Suriya Rosaryo on the left, whose well-placed shot inside the box caused Nazri to fumble his initial save before retrieving on the second try.
The roles were reversed three minutes from the interval when Rosaryo sent the former Super Reds striker clear on the left, and Moon forced a good reaction save from the Home custodian to keep the scores level at half-time.
The men in yellow were displaying much grit and determination in unison, in what was a vain if valiant attempt to get three points for the first time since February.
That grit was not as evident in some of the Protectors, who were content to go through the motions, to the frustration of Lee, who willed them on from the touchline as he had so often done.
One man who showed spirit despite not having very much to prove was lanky striker Frederic Mendy.
Already assured of his second Golden Boot in Singapore, the Home No.10 nonetheless displayed the most determination in attack as he tried to help his side grab the three points in the second half.
The former Etoile sharpshooter first saw his header off a long-range free kick from deep saved by Woodlands custodian Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, before his crosses on the left were fluffed by Firdaus Idros and Shotaro Ihata.
Others who demonstrated endeavour included Indra Sahdan Daud and Nor Azli Yusoff, both men persuaded by Lee to rejoin the club in March after they had been excluded from the initial roster.
The longer the game remained scoreless, the more desperate Home became, and some – if not all – showed signs of urgency in their bid to avoid an embarrassing result against the bottom side.
Nazri kept his team in the game and himself in line for a first clean sheet of the season when he kept out an attempt from Rosaryo, while Rai, finding himself in a rare attacking position, scuffed a lay-up from Kenji Arai at the other end.
Ahmadulhaq ensured the evening would end in frustrating fashion for Home when he kept out attempts from Ihata and substitute Justin Khiang, as both sides settled for a share of the points at the final whistle.
Such was Lee’s exasperation with some of his non-performing players, however, that he took one of them aside for a special tete-a-tete on the pitch after the match.
The former World Cup participant did not mince his words at the post-match press conference either, as he revealed that he had already made up his mind on the shape of his team for next year.
“Our guys looked a bit tired, but I respected them for at least going out to play,” he said.
“Unfortunately, finishing was a problem for us tonight and we didn’t score as a result.
“Football is not a sport about individual players; we work together as a team. Those who didn’t want to be there had already decided they will not want to be there for next season.”
Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo was a little disappointed his side could not earn all three points for their efforts on the pitch.
“I am not really satisfied with a point,” he said.
“We could have gotten three, which we wanted and should have deserved, from the way our players performed. I would have been happier with a point if Home had fielded Lionel, Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi.
“Tonight we were consistent in both halves and had chances to score. Unfortunately, not every day is a Sunday, so we could not score at Jalan Besar, a venue where we didn’t have difficulty finding goals this season.”