Rams show steel in comeback at Hougang
Photography by Aundry Gan
Woodlands Wellington shook off a disjointed first half-hour to take a share of the spoils off hosts Hougang United in a 2-2 draw at Hougang Stadium on Saturday evening.
It looked to be Hougang’s game for the taking early on, as they went into the half-time break with a 2-1 lead and plenty of verve in reserve.
But a second-half goal by Daniel Hammond saved Woodlands a point, giving them hope yet in their bid to haul themselves off the bottom of the table.
The speedy home side lived up to their mascot’s name when, in only the seventh minute, Sobrie Mazelan met a corner from the left with a glancing header to the far left corner of the netting.
The momentum was with the Cheetahs, and ten minutes after their opener, they came close to a second goal as a neat pass from the right came tantalisingly to the feet of midfielder Fazli Jaffar, who could only skew his shot wide.
Rams striker Moon Soon Ho was lively as he showed his prowess at quick run-ins and shots, and an effort from outside the box on 22 minutes looked to find the goal, but the sizzle became a fizzle as the shot was saved by Hougang custodian Fadhil Salim.
The hosts quickly went on the counter, and from down the middle Fazli was luckier this time as he shook off the attention of two Rams defenders at the edge of the penalty box arc and tapped a low ball home.
At 2-0 up on 23 minutes, it all looked comfortable for the men in orange and black, but Woodlands reduced the deficit in somewhat fortuitous fashion ten minutes before half-time.
Goh Swee Swee sent a free kick low from 20 yards out, and the ball zipped below Fadhil’s outstretched torso.
Inspired by their tireless No.9, the Rams returned from the break in fine fettle.
Having already made two first-half substitutions, with Oswind Suriya Rosaryo and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman thrown into the fray for Han Yiguang and Danny Chew, they made it clear they were searching for goals.
“We made the two early substitutions to shore up our attack,” said their team manager Matthew Michael Tay in the post-match interview.
“We sent in players who were up to the game, replacing two who were not on good form. That helped our mission.”
Moon found his second wind when, with seven minutes gone in the second period, his left-footed shot taken from the middle of the box came close before it was touched away by a stretching Fadhil.
As Hougang were kept busy in their battles with Moon, they tellingly missed the services of their resident attacking tyro Jordan Webb, whose suspension for this encounter left the Cheetahs fans thinking of what could have been had the Canadian’s penetrating presence been available.
Sensing the chance to regain parity, Goh tried for a second goal on 57 minutes with an audacious chipped shot from distance which ultimately missed the mark by mere inches.
Soon enough, though, the big break came for the visitors, rewarded as they were for their enduring effort.
Hammond, changing his play from defence to attack, used his height to reach a ball swung into Hougang’s six-yard box from the right, and the connection hit the top left corner of Fadhil’s goal to make it 2-2.
Neither side seemed happy to play for shared points, however, as each had a clear target to chase.
Knowing that SAFFC were trailing 0-3 at Yishun, the Cheetahs recognised the value of a win that would have shuffled them up to seventh, while a win for the Rams would have lifted them off the bottom.
Moon and Goh looked especially hungry for the visitors, and the former’s shots from distance became a common sight in the final minutes, while free kicks from the latter were going on target without hitting the back of the net.
Hougang were not entirely sitting back either, their effervescent forward Mamadou Diallo screaming forward in an injury-time effort to head in a cross on the left.
But the presence of the imposing Hammond unsettled the Guinean, and the ball sailed over the bar as referee K. Kalimuthu called the game square seconds later.
It was the third successive draw in league action for the home side, having last taken full points in mid-July, when they thrashed Balestier Khalsa 3-0 at Toa Payoh.
One man’s chagrin was another’s joy, however, as Tay, speaking on behalf of head coach Salim Moin, praised his Woodlands charges in a way that almost suggested they had actually won.
“I am proud of the boys,” he declared.
“They showed great character to come from two goals down and take a point. It is the first time this season we have come back from being two down – a record of sorts for us.”
Hougang coach Nenad Bacina was magnanimous even as he watched the win slip away from his side.
“Congrats to Woodlands, who came for the point and got the point – it was a brave performance!” said the one-time Rams handler.
“We conceded a soft goal to them to make it 2-1, and our goalkeeper could have done better. In the second half we tried to score, but then conceded the Hammond header.
“We tried hard but couldn’t score. We just did not have the cutting edge.”