Second-half leaks extend Woodlands tragedy
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
Woodlands Wellington’s season of tragedy continued on Sunday evening after they were consigned to a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Gombak United.
The result at Woodlands Stadium left the Rams without a win for twenty games on the trot in all competitions, and they continue to prop up the league table as their victorious opponents moved back into tenth spot after being displaced 48 hours earlier.
A red card to goalkeeper Ang Bang Heng, who was playing well prior to his challenge on Julien Durand just before the hour mark, proved the turning point for the home side, and Gombak profited as Hafiz Rahim converted the resulting penalty and Mustaqim Manzur put them 2-0 up.
Oswind Suriya Rosaryo reduced the arrears for Woodlands three minutes from time, but they were unable to salvage a draw that would have taken them off bottom spot.
Midfielder Rosaryo was a surprise draft in Salim Moin’s starting eleven, though the latter’s decision to field forward Hussein Akil at centreback in place of the injured Fabien Lewis raised even more eyebrows.
Gombak had K. Vikraman holding the centre of midfield alongside Adrian Dhanaraj, while Ismail Yunos partnered Obadin Aikhena and Christopher Anderson was deployed at rightback.
Despite the somewhat experimental nature of the two lineups, the game kicked off in quick fashion as both sides were cheered on by their raucous – if small – support.
The opening exchanges tended to tilt towards the visitors, and Ang was made to show his mettle as early as 14 minutes in, when he pushed Vikraman’s free kick from the right over the crossbar.
A bit of pinball attacking then ensued in the Woodlands penalty area as they only half-cleared the resulting corner, but they soon had a few meaningful attacks of their own.
Moon Soon Ho drew a sharp save out of Zaiful Nizam on 21 minutes, and Goh Swee Swee flashed a shot wide from well out on the right, and the game came to life, albeit in spurts.
Significantly, the Rams were playing some of the best football they have done for some time, with Moon and Goh leading the way in showing some attacking sting.
The goalkeepers came off best for both teams, though, a point illustrated by Zaiful with his two saves in as many minutes to deny both Woodlands forwards, before Ang offered his response just before the half-time whistle by saving Mustaqim’s stinging effort from an angle.
The Woodlands custodian was making his fourth consecutive appearance, having held the position ahead of Ahmadulhaq Che Omar throughout the club’s unexciting StarHub League Cup campaign, and apart from a tendency to avoid long goal kicks, he was showing fine form.
But the evening ended for him in dreadful fashion on 59 minutes when he was forced into challenging Durand, who had broken into the box after being played through by Vikraman on the right.
Referee P. Jeevanathan had no doubt it was a penalty, before pulling out the red card for Ang, who could do nothing apart from quietly trudging off the field dismayed by the manner of his premature exit.
That meant Ahmadulhaq, who had not been training in the past week due to reservist commitments, had to be thrown into the fray cold, and his first job was to pick the ball out of the net after Hafiz sent it high to the goalkeeper’s left.
It was a cruel blow for Woodlands, who only minutes earlier had come close to taking the lead when Goh’s header off a free kick was cleared on the line by Anderson.
And it could have been worse if Gombak – and substitute Jung Hee Bong in particular – showed more clinical finishing up front, having fashioned a few chances off quick forays down the wings.
Jung’s agony began on 69 minutes, when he rushed into the penalty area to meet a tee-up on the right, only to lose his footing as he attempted his shot, sending the ball rolling tamely into touch.
Two minutes later, the Korean picked up a good play on the right while staying onside, only to contrive to blast into the night sky.
His evening effectively ended with 15 minutes left in the match, when Daniel Hammond struck him in the calf in a rash challenge near the corner flag, leaving him grimacing in some pain.
By contrast, Mustaqim looked much more dangerous for the men in red, and Ahmadulhaq did well enough to put him off in an encounter in the box shortly before Hammond’s foul on Jung.
The former Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper messed up badly seven minutes from time, however, when he fluffed his attempt to clear a long ball coming at him from the Gombak left.
Staring at an open goal in front of him, Mustaqim darted in and stroked the ball home – but that was not the end of the drama yet as Woodlands threw everything forward.
They halved the deficit when confusion in the Gombak rearguard saw the ball break to Rosaryo on the left, who advanced well into the box before firing past Zaiful from pointblank range.
The 23-year-old could have made it two goals in as many minutes had he directed his header off Danny Chew’s long cross on target, but as both sets of fans spent the final minutes engaging in an angry shouting match, the heated finale on the field ended in a whimper for Woodlands.
Win fails to cover goal woes for Balagumaran
Gombak United coach K. Balagumaran was left lamenting his team’s lack of killer touch up front despite coming off with a 2-1 victory over Woodlands Wellington on Sunday evening.
The Bulls triumphed through a Hafiz Rahim penalty and a gift of a goal to Mustaqim Manzur, but Balagumaran looked less than happy at the final whistle, with Jung Hee Bong, who spurned two good opportunities, receiving the brunt of his criticism.
“It was a red, definitely, but the penalty helped us,” he said of the dismissal of Woodlands goalkeeper Ang Bang Heng, which led to the opening goal.
“You can see the chances we are creating, but the finishing is still not there. Even when Bong came in and had two clear chances, he could not score, so I’m wondering if he’s a striker.
“He got a kick in his shin, and he’ll need to go and get an X-ray done tomorrow. Anyway, he cannot travel to Brunei, because his passport is valid for only four months, which is not enough.
“We’re playing perfectly good football, but it’s the finishing that bothers me. We need good finishers, somebody like (Liverpool legend) Ian Rush!”
Balagumaran was also concerned by the ease with which Woodlands pulled a goal back late on through Oswind Suriya Rosaryo.
“After the second goal, we got complacent,” he admitted.
“Nurullah (Hussein) and (Julien) Durand were involved in a slip-up, and from there, we lost the ball in midfield. At the end of the day, a win in a win, but to give away this type of sloppy goals was not good.”
Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo, speaking on behalf of head coach Salim Moin at the post-match interview, acknowledged there was no contesting the goals his team conceded.
He appeared heartened by the positive performance the players offered, however, and added that finishing on the losing side despite this display would naturally have hurt.
“We were good today, we have been doing this in training, but we didn’t take our chances,” he told sleague.com.
“What can I say (about the red card)? If it was my team, of course I’d say Ang’s foul was a yellow card, but if it’s an opponent, I’d be asking the referee for a sending-off!
“But there was no doubt, the first was a penalty, and the second one was a gift from us. The players are as disappointed as we are, they know they played well and that’s important, but this has affected morale a little, and we have to accept it.”