Warriors sink Woodlands to end losing run
Photography by Aundry Gan
SAFFC put their worrying run of three straight league defeats behind them as they squeezed past cellar dwellers Woodlands Wellington 2-1 at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Thursday evening.
Despite being largely under the cosh for much of the first half, the home side managed to ride that tough period out to keep themselves firmly in the top half of the league table.
Outgoing Warriors coach Richard Bok made a number of changes from the side that capitulated to Malaysia’s Harimau Muda two weeks ago.
Some of the changes were enforced, as Bah Mamadou came in for the suspended Marin Vidosevic, while recent international commitments meant the exhausted duo of Daniel Bennett and Fazrul Nawaz were rested.
In came Prime League defender Eddie Chang to partner Mamadou at the back, while Erwan Gunawan linked up with Mislav Karoglan in attack.
The most glaring omission came in the form of Shimpei Sakurada, who was left out of the matchday squad altogether, with Noh Rahman taking his place in the middle of the park beside Shukor Zailan.
Sakurada’s absence was apparently not down to any injuries, though, as Bok explained his tactical rationale.
“We wanted to get the ball down the flanks more,” he told sleague.com.
“Thus I needed Marin Jonjic and Tatsuro Inui there, with Zulfadli (Zainal Abidin) and Ruzaini (Zainal) supporting from their fullback positions.”
With Vidosevic suspended, which meant SAFFC could only field three foreigners for the evening, Sakurada became the one chosen to be sacrificed.
The hosts started the match well, with Erwan getting a sight of goal three minutes in before being closed down.
That led to a run of three successive Warriors corners that stretched the Woodlands defence, with Daniel Hammond and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman doing well to hold their fort.
However, the tide soon turned towards the visitors, who, with the help of the precocious Oswind Suriya Rosaryo to support the hardworking front two of Moon Soon Ho and Goh Swee Swee, created numerous openings.
Firstly a slip-up by Chang on 13 minutes led to Rosaryo squaring the ball across the box for an unchecked Goh, who looked odds-on to finish the move off with just Shahril Jantan to beat.
But the 26-year-old lost his composure at the critical moment as he placed his left-footed shot over the bar.
Another missed header from Chang four minutes later meant Moon was able to slalom his way through before producing a snap-shot that Shahril got a strong palm to.
The Korean then curled wide on 22 minutes, before Goh surged through five minutes later thanks to a Shamsurin knockdown, but his shot was too straightforward for Shahril.
It was a confident period of good passing play from the Rams, as evidenced by an outside-foot pass from Armanizam Dolah to Goh from midfield on 35 minutes, but failure to finish at least one of those chances came back to haunt them rather rapidly.
A half-cleared ball by Hammond from an Inui cross on the right fell to Shukor, who still had it all to do from 30 yards, but the long-range specialist sent the Warriors fans into delirium with a blistering full volley that had Woodlands goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar grasping at thin air.
It was a goal against the run of play, one that Bok admitted was a game-changer.
“You always need a goal to calm things down, and that goal was indeed very important,” he revealed.
That scoreline remained till half-time, with proceedings continuing in the same manner for much of the second half.
Half-chances kept coming for the Warriors; Shukor sent Noh Rahman racing through on 49 minutes, but the latter’s cross-shot was cleared by Hussein Akil.
Jonjic then sent a stooping header past the post from Inui’s cross on 58, before placing the ball straight towards Ahmadulhaq from Zulfadli’s pullback on 65.
In-between those efforts, Karoglan managed to break free once as well, but his chip from an acute angle just evaded the post.
Still, on 71 minutes, all those misses were forgiven.
A perfectly weighted ball in from Inui saw Jonjic and Karoglan going for the same ball in the six-yard box, with the latter going just a step ahead of his compatriot to send a sizzling header past a rooted Ahmadulhaq.
A lapse in concentration did allow Woodlands to get a goal back ten minutes later, when Moon exchanged passes with Goh inside the box before coolly sidefooting past Shahril for his first goal since June.
But that was all the Rams could create as they eventually fell to a defeat that, if nothing else, was at least respectable for the northern outfit.
Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo could only lament what could have been had his side capitalised on that period of first-half dominance.
“In the first half we didn’t take our chances,” he noted bluntly.
“We probably had four shots on target before SAFFC scored. We played well according to our game plan then, but it’s frustrating for the players that they just could not score.
“In the second half, it just did not work out for us; we were scrambling and the basic discipline wasn’t there. We only scored in the last few minutes.
“It’s three points lost for us, we could have won the game.”
Bok meanwhile was relieved in victory when he spoke to sleague.com.
“I thought we had a good game,” remarked the 43-year-old.
“We played some decent football in terms of moving the ball and getting down the flanks. It was just that we’re a bit shaky at the back in the first half, as Eddie and Bah were out for quite a while.
“They had a couple of good chances, but overall I thought we created more chances. We just need to be more clinical in front of goal.
“Their goal came out of nowhere and created a bit of anxiety, but we held out well. I’m quite satisfied; it’s a long time since we got three points!”