Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pre-Match Briefing: Tanjong Pagar vs Woodlands Wellington

The final game of the season sees Woodlands Wellington travel southwest to meet Tanjong Pagar United in what would be the Jaguars' 10th game of the season played in front of their home crowd in Queenstown Stadium since their return to Singapore's first satellite town at the start of 2012.

Our last outing at Jalan Besar resulted in a goalless affair with Home United and while the Rams were unlucky not to have walked away with all three points from that fixture, we can be comforted by the fact that the draw did help us arrest a three match losing streak following that emphatic comeback against Hougang in early September. Likewise, Tanjong Pagar will also be heading into this fixture on the back of a 1-1 draw with Balestier Khalsa.

The Jaguars have scored a total of 15 times this season, while Woodlands has scored just one more. Conversely, Woodlands have conceded 4 more goals than Tanjong Pagar this season and the Rams' backline will need to be wary of top scorer Takaya Kawanabe, who has already clinched 6 goals this season. On the flipside, the Jaguars will be watching Woodlands' top scorer, Moon Soon-Ho, tightly as the Korean hot-shot has 7 goals to his name, one more than Kawanabe, and the former Super Reds stiker has been busy in the assist department as well, creating another 6 goals for his team mates.

Since Tanjong Pagar's return to the S.League in 2011, Woodlands have never beaten them either at home or away. Out of the last 4 head to head matches, Tanjong Pagar have beaten the Rams twice and drew with us twice. With the season effectively over since our last match against DPMM, the Rams will be under no pressure and should be fully motivated to finally break their dismal record against the Jaguars.

Although the recent span of results may not have fallen in favour of Woodlands, the Rams seem to have picked up the pace in the last few games and attractive, flowing football has started to become a hallmark for the boys. Livewire Goh Swee Swee is always a joy to watch and looks a good bet to add to his tally of 3 goals with his wicked right foot, while Guntur Djafril's recent run of form should get him into all sort of interesting positions for the Rams to exploit. Custodian Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, who just celebrated his birthday a couple of days ago, would also want to notch his fourth clean sheet for the season.

Yes, the curtain may have descended on the league with Tampines' second consecutive title last evening, but we will not let our third wooden spoon daunt us from ending the season with anything other than a win. 

Come On You Rams! Never Surrender!

Match Information
Date: Sunday, 4th June, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Tanjong Pagar Stadium

Friday, July 20, 2012

Opponent Watch: Balestier Khalsa

After Tuesday night's encouraging performance against Tampines, our fixture against Balestier Khalsa could not have come at a better time. The Tigers, who enjoyed a great start to the season under the tutelage of Darren Stewart, have lost their last three games on the trot and faltered most recently at home to a meek 3-0 victory to Hougang United.

While Stewart would hope to arrest this slump by getting a favourable result at Woodlands, the Rams seem to have other plans of their own for this encounter. After ditching their defensive tactics in favour of an exciting, attacking game against Tampines, confidence is now high in the dressing room as Woodlands managed to take the game to the league champions and displayed plenty of promising movement in their opponents' half.

The loss to Tampines resulted in Woodlands' 14th game without a win this season - and their second consecutive loss after drawing with Geylang in June - but it certainly did not affect the spirit of the fans, and especially the players, and the rejuvenated Rams will now seek to go for the Tigers' jugular right from the start.

Woodlands fans singing and showing their appreciation to the players after the Tampines fixture.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

A shortage of goals in recent matches seemed to lead to Balestier's downfall. The Tigers have only scored 1 goal since the restart of the league following the mid-season break, courtesy of their nifty midfielder Ruhaizad Ismail, and came up short in their last 2 matches against Gombak United and Hougang United.

Former Persib Bandung striker, Zdravko Dragićević, was roped in by Balestier during the mid-season break but the 26 year old Montenegrin has failed to find the back of the net in 3 outings so far. The 1.80m tall player will be fancying his chances against Woodlands and must be closely watched.

On paper, Woodlands and Balestier's midfield seem to be evenly matched as former Tiger Armanizam Dolah looks set to lock horns with his former mentor, Tengku Mushadad. Guntur Djafril, Neil Vanu and Goh Swee Swee will also be looking to test their blistering pace against Balestier's Ruhaizad Ismail  and former Gombak star Park Kang-Jin.

We should see plenty of running from both sides tonight.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Meanwhile, recent national team call-up Joey Sim is almost certain to start in goal for the Tigers in place of reserve goalkeeper Zakariah Nerani, and the former will make full use of this chance to impress Darren Stewart and reclaim the number 1 spot in the team after he was dropped following a 3-1 loss to Brunei DPMM in May.

Woodlands top scorer Moon Soon-Ho and his strike partner, Hussein Akil, will also be looking to slip past the defensive pairing of Paul Cunningham and Goran Subara. While Balestier's early season success was largely due to the fantastic work of Cunningham and Subara, recent results show otherwise. Moon's ability of being equally adept with both feet, as well as Hussein's pace and telepathic understanding with the Korean, should be put to good use against a Balestier defence that is currently low in morale.

Balestier striker Zulkiffli Hassim should also be on the prowl and he will be looking to make amends for his dismissal in March after mouthing racist remarks against the big Trinidadian Fabien "Fari" Lewis.

Zulkiffli Hassim's dismissal in our reverse fixture
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

With their recent propitious display, we can expect Woodlands to play the same electrifying game which they did against the Stags. If the boys continue like how they did against Tampines, this may well be the night where we end our losing streak.

Come On You Rams! Never Surrender!

Match Information
Date: Tuesday, 20th June, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Woodlands Stadium

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reaction: Woodlands vs Tampines

What a match.

Even Sead Hadžibulić's hat trick, which consigned the Rams to their fifth home defeat, could not dampen the spirits of the home fans as Woodlands put in a performance worthy of a top-half table team.

Gone were the defensive minded tactics, which had left fans frustrated time and again. Suddenly, Woodlands was displaying promising movement in the final third of the pitch, passing the ball around intricately and making intelligent use of the wings, where Guntur Djafril and Goh Swee Swee toiled relentlessly with their respective ventures down the left and right flanks.

Perhaps the players were riled by the callous comment of a particular S.League writer who condemned the team even before a single ball was kicked, describing the literal parking of a double decker as the only way Woodlands could expect to get something out of this match.

The best form of defence is offense.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Woodlands approached this game knowing a loss to Tampines, depending how Geylang fared at Home United the following day, would potentially drop us down into the bottom spot. And how Woodlands laboured to come up with a favourable result.

Against their determined and organised opponents, Tampines found themselves under constant threat as the Rams launched wave after wave of attack on Saša Dreven's goal. Steven Tan, who enjoyed a fairly easy victory over the Rams in March, was probably left scratching his head and wondering if this was the same team which his Stags beat 4-0 in March.

While many expected Woodlands to buckle under the threat of a star studded Tampines team featuring the likes of Hadžibulić, Aleksandar Đurić, Ahmad Latiff Khamarudin and, later on in the second half, Mustafić Fahrudin and Noh Alam Shah, the Rams stubbornly refused to give in to the hype generated by the media and took the game to the Stags. If there was supposed to be a gulf between S.League champions Tampines and bottom dweller Woodlands, it certainly didn't show in this match as the Rams had the Stags constantly on the back foot, especially in the second half.

Armanizam engaged in a lively battle with Mustafić in midfield.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Attacking midfielders Hussein Akil and Neil Vanu were constant thorns to Tampines' defence, while Moon Soon-Ho threatened with his prospective shots at goal. Armanizam Dolah provided the thrust in the middle of the park, while Daniel Hammond's trademark punts provided plenty of ammunition for the frontline. The congruent teamwork on the field, which had been lacking for the past 13 winless matches, drew cheers of appreciation from the home stands, but this was sadly misinterpreted as a form of indulging in oblivious revelry by misinformed members of the media.

Quiet throughout the match, the Tampines faithful only sprang to life whenever the ball landed in the back of the net in their favour. However, it seemed like the Stags fans saved their loudest cheers for the introduction of Noh Alam Shah in the 68th minute. Credit goes to "Along" for taking the chants directed at him like a real man, and acknowledging the Woodlands fans with a friendly wave after the final whistle when his name was cheered emphatically by the Rams faithful as well.

No Duncan, you deserve the thumbs up from us!
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The match ended with the entire Woodlands team walking over to the gallery to applaud and shake the fans' hands. The players must have sensed the renewed sense of belief in each and every fan. There was plenty of cheering going on, and the merry-making went on well after every player had entered the tunnel for their post match showers.

Attention now can turn to our encounter with Balestier Khalsa on Friday night. The Tigers faltered at home to Hougang on Tuesday and look to be going through a slump right now. A win on Friday would bring a much-needed boost after tonight's definitive performance by the boys.

Bring on Balestier Khalsa, I say! Never Surrender!

For more photos of the match, please check out Andrew's album here.

Tampines Rovers: 3 (Hadžibulić 26, 39, 84)
Woodlands Welllington: 0

Woodlands: Ahmadulhaq; Elias, Lewis, Hammond (c), Armanizam; Guntur (Oswind 79), Farizal (Yap 56), Goh; Moon, Akil, Neil.
Unused subs Ang, Dinie, Zulkarnain, Han, Daniel

Monday, July 16, 2012

Opponent Watch: Tampines Rovers

The Rams have a tough and busy week ahead when they meet top half opposition in high flying Tampines Rovers at the Woodlands Stadium tomorrow evening, followed by Balestier Khalsa on Friday at the same venue.

The last match between Woodlands and Tampines ended up in a pivotal 4-0 win for the Stags, a crucial result for Steven Tan's men as they bounced back from prior losses to Albirex Niigata (S) in the S.League and Kitchee (Hong Kong) in their AFC Cup Group F campaign, ending their poor early season form. Playing in front of their adopted fans at the Clementi Stadium for the first time, the Stags put in a wonderful performance and notched their first win, setting the tone for sense of things to come from that point on. The encouraging result seemed to have worked wonders for Tampines as they haven't looked back since.

Tampines captain Aleksandar Đurić leading the stags out of Clementi Stadium for the first time.
Photo Credit:  Yeo's Great Eastern S.League

The Stags are now in 3rd place and seem to have a good chance in retaining the S.League title this season, and they will definitely be looking to displace the White Swans at the expense of Woodlands, whose winless run was further perpetuated by their loss to Albirex Niigata (S) last Wednesday.

There is no doubt that Singapore international Aleksandar Đurić poses the greatest threat for the Rams. The 42 year old striker scored a hat trick against Woodlands in March, and his goal after just 30 seconds sure gave us one heck of an uphill battle.

It should be an interesting aerial battle between Woodlands and Tampines.
Photo Credit:  Yeo's Great Eastern S.League

Đurić boasts a scary head to head personal record against the Rams - he has scored in each and every one of the last 5 matches between Woodlands and Tampines in the S.League. He managed to score hat tricks in three of those matches, a phenomenal record by any standard, and he will seek to continue this fine record at Woodlands Stadium. When the Stags came to visit last season, Đurić netted a hat trick to cap off a 4-0 win for Tampines.

There is no doubt about it. Đurić needs to be tightly marked! Woodlands will have to rely on the towering presence of our twin towers, Daniel Hammond and Fabien "Fari" Lewis, to shut off the compelling Tampines attack.

Jamil Ali has a knack for creeping into pockets of space and must be closely watched.
Photo Credit:  Yeo's Great Eastern S.League

Tampines also poses several attacking options in the form of foreign players Gligor Gligorov and Sead Hadžibulić, Singapore international Ahmed Fahmie, as well as former Woodlands players Ahmad Latiff Khamarudin and Jamil Ali. The latter is having a sensational season and many are still scratching their heads and wondering what he has to do to get a call up to the National Team.

And then we have Noh Alam Shah. "Along", as he is known colloquially, is perhaps the player fans want to see back in action the most. The former international spent 3 and a half years away in Indonesia, played 67 matches during his sojourn with Arema Malang and Persib Bandung, and scored a total of 27 times. He would probably be making his comeback debut against Woodlands after rejoining Tampines after his final game for Persib Bandung on 11 July.

On paper, Tampines probably has one of the most exciting teams in the league. However, as poor as Woodlands' form may be now, the Rams have to bounce back at some point in time. And it certainly doesn't hurt to come into this game as heavy underdogs since almost everyone expects the Stags to come away with a victory.

Hussein Akil is acclimatising well to the weather and pace of the S.League.
Photo Credit:  Yeo's Great Eastern S.League

Anyone who watched Woodlands play in our first 2 matches of this season would probably believe that we can beat anyone if we played like that in every match.

I believe that the Rams can match any opposition in the league if we play cohesively as a unit. That means having the discipline to mark every man tightly, passing every ball with purpose and making the most of every chance we have. We seemed to have finally broke out of our shell and switched to a more balanced style of play, which makes it more attractive to watch as opposed to our previous defensive style.

Players like Daniel Hammond, Armanizam Dolah, Hussein Akil, Goh Swee Swee and Moon Soon-Ho are in fact some of the best in their position but honestly it has taken quite a while for them to gel together. It would be scary for any team if they could connect well together and start playing lively, attacking football.

Let's start having the confidence to have a go at the opponent's goal. There are plenty of Rams who can pack a powerful shot, or swing in a tricky cross. Come on Rams, show what you can do! It's time to wake up from your slumber!

Tampines expects an easy victory. Let's give them Hell instead!

Match Information
Date: Tuesday, 17th June, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Woodlands Stadium

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reaction: Albirex vs Woodlands

13 games without a win.

That's the record as it stands now, and honestly we are lucky to still be in 12th position after Geylang conceded a late, late goal in a game which seemed headed for a draw following Jozef Kaplán's 85th minute penalty, which drew the Eagles level with the Cheetahs.

The Japanese were simply too organized for the Rams. Woodlands' attacks were snuffed out the moment they were started, and the White Swans had us back peddling on several occasions. If it weren't for some effective defending from Fabien Lewis and Daniel Hammond, we would have left Jurong East with a even larger deficit.

The Japanese shone at their game, and it wasn't just their bright orange jerseys.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

When Woodlands played Albirex in their reverse fixture earlier this season, many felt that the Rams were too cautious and did not venture forward enough. The same could be said for the first half at Jurong East, as Albirex kept us in our own half with their slick passing game and coordinated play. We simply could not find anyway past the White Swans' midfield, and were kept busy trying to keep out their incessant attack. For a while it seemed like we were keen to just defend with our lives and leave Jurong East with a goalless draw.

The resistance was broken after just 26 minutes when Astushi Shimono latched on to Sho Kamimura's pass and slotted the ball home despite the best effort of Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.

Shimono slots the ball underneath Ahmadulhaq to give the hosts the lead.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The goal did not seem to wake Woodlands up as they continued to play with a defensive mindset, while looking to attack on the counter. The only part where Woodlands looked dangerous was during dead ball situations, but the Rams failed to capitalize on their height advantage, much to the relief of Albirex's defence.

The half time break worked wonders for Woodlands as they came out looking rejuvenated, plunging forward in numbers in search for an equalizer. Hussein Akil was presented with a couple of chances as a reward for Woodlands' bodacious surges forward, but despite his best efforts, he failed to send the ball to the back of the net. However, the young Australian never gave up and continued trying his luck with shots from distance.

The second goal by Kunihiro Yamashita happened out of nowhere really, when a floated ball into Woodlands' box caught the entire defence sleeping. Yes, there were shouts for offside, but it would have been a long shot for referee Leow Thiam Hoe to pull back play for one.

Hussein Akil was a real livewire in the second half.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

When Woodlands began to slip the ball through Albirex's seemingly inpenetrable midfield, the Rams gained more confidence with every move they had going forward. The tightly marked Moon Soon-Ho began looking for pockets of space, and the introduction of Neil Vanu meant that Hussein had more breathing space. Moon also let fly with a prospective shot late in the game that was inches away from goal and was unlucky not to score.

The match saw referee Leow Thiam Hoe brandish a total of five yellow cards, with three of them coming within the span of the last ten minutes. For the last quarter of the game, it was deja vu once again for Woodlands' fans as Albirex pulled off a Harimau Muda and started dropping like flies all over the place.

Leow Thiam Hoe was happy to dish out numerous fouls in favour of the Japanese, stopping the game time and again for an infringement-laden 15 minutes. And the White Swans lapped it up, falling at the lightest touch and stopping the match time and again.

Well, the Rams must put this loss behind us, and brace ourselves for the two tough games ahead in the upcoming week. Honestly, the Black Sheep have been outsinging opposing crowds for the last 15 games, and we always give it our best in the stands to spur our boys on despite the outcome of the game.

Perhaps it's time for the squad to take a leaf from our book and show the rest of the league what Woodlands is made of. We have a fantastic squad and we know it. After forgetting the taste of victory after 13 games, wouldn't it be nice for us to flip the season around, starting with Tampines next Tuesday?

Come On You Rams! Never Surrender!

For more photos of the match, please view Andrew's album here.

Never Surrender!
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Opponent Watch: Albirex Niigata (S)

Woodlands will start the next match in 12th position against 4th placed Albirex Niigata (S) but the White Swans coach, Koichi Sugiyama, will not be taking the Rams lightly.

557 fans witnessed a real battle the last time these 2 sides met at Jalan Besar and it took a last minute goal from Yasuhiro Yamakoshi, who thanked the heavens after finding the ball falling to his feet with the goal at his mercy, following a defensive mix-up between Fabien Lewis and Ahmadulhaq Che Omar.

Four months have passed since that game and while the White Swans have maintained their position at the top half of the S.League table, the Rams seemed to have lost their footing right after that match, falling from 3rd position into the cellar. The Rams, which had won two consecutive matches before that fateful game, never really recovered from that loss to Albirex.

Although a win is a win, the result in March only serves to flatter the White Swans as they laboured to find a way past a stubborn Woodlands defence. Japanese hitman Toshikazu Soya, who had scored 3 goals before meeting Woodlands, was kept quiet throughout the match and cut a frustrated figure up front. 

In order to grind out a result at Jurong East, our defence must aim to keep the potent Japanese outfit out like they did at Jalan Besar.

Expect a real battle in midfield between Armanizam Dolah and Musashi Okuyama.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

We will also probably see the White Swans marking Moon Soon-Ho tightly, as the Korean is generally perceived as the greatest threat to the Japanese. With an average of a goal scored in every two matches, Moon is equally dangerous as a creator and has 3 assists to his name so far, the highest among a list of assistants that include Daniel Hammond, Armanizam Dolah and Goh Swee Swee.

Moon also seems to be Albirex's bogeyman, scoring in the first minute when he played against the White Swans last season after joining Woodlands during the mid-season transfer window. The former Cheonan City star could have made it 2 goals in 2 matches against Albirex but Albirex custodian Takuma Ito managed to somehow defy gravity and palm away Moon's audacious lob in the first leg of this fixture in 2012. Moon's partnership with Hussein Akil, who scored his third goal in our last match against Geylang, will also be something to look out for. Moon has assisted Akil in two of those goals, and Akil could very use make use of the tight marking on the Korean to peel away with the ball with his blistering pace.

Moon will be tightly marked by the Japanese.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Albirex's recent Singapore Cup match against Tampines shows that the Japanese are suspect to breaches in concentration, having given away a first half lead to concede two goals to the Stags in the second half. The White Swans went on to lose the game and the Rams must exploit these lapses.

The Albirex man to watch out for would be the talismatic Yasuhiro Yamakoshi, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Yamakoshi has 5 goals to his name so far, as many as first choice striker Soya, and our defence needs to keep a close eye on him. At 172cm, he may not pose much of an aerial threat but our twin towers need to be wary of his quick feet.

Albirex's midfield fulcrum, Atsushi Shimono, may not be the most graceful player on the pitch, nor the making the headlines by getting on the scoresheet for the White Swans, but the midfielder with the luscious locks is one of the most hardworking players on the pitch. A quiet but solid performer, he puts in the tackles where they matter, and his crisp passing would cause problems for any team. Armanizam Dolah will need to be at his best to match Shimono in this one.

The work of the tireless Atsushi Shimono must be nipped at the bid.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Albirex's "smiling assassin", Sho Kamimura, would also be a handful for the Rams. The 23 year old may only have 3 goals at the moment, but he is always on the prowl for more goals.

Against an organized Albirex Niigata (S), Woodlands will need to maintain their composure and churn out a result. It will be a match where there's plenty of passing and running involved, and the Rams will need to adopt a patient approach.

The last time we lost to Albirex, we gave them too much respect and only started attacking after a good 15 minutes had gone by. Yes, let's respect the opponent, but not to the point where we are simply being eaten like a bunch of sacrificial lambs.

Come On You Rams! We shall Never Surrender!

Match Information
Date: Wednesday, 11th June, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Jurong East Stadium

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reaction:Geylang vs Woodlands Wellington

After a disappointing draw at Bedok Stadium, Woodlands' fans will no doubt feel hard done by Sukhbir Singh's questionable decisions but in truth, the referee was handing out dubious decisions against the Eagles as well. Sukhbir called for an offside decision against Geylang's Michael King, who did not seem to be offside before putting the ball in the back of the net.

When the spot kick was given against Woodlands, ostensibly for a handball in the box by the returning Neil Vanu, Jozef Kaplán's successful penalty conversion further perpetuated the Rams' record of win-less games to 12 matches.

Jozef Kaplán breaks the Black Sheep's hearts.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Try as they might, the Rams found it hard to replicate the 3 -1 victory at Woodlands Stadium in February. Moon Soon-Ho came closest to scoring the match winner but his cheeky flick in the Geylang penalty box could only hit the frame of the goal as Geylang custodian Yazid Yasin was left stranded. This was the third time that a Woodlands player had crashed a shot against the post in as many weeks, following Daniel Hammond and Aloysius Yap's efforts against Tanjong Pagar and the Courts Young Lions respectively.

The stalemate at Bedok was also our third draw in the competition, the other two coming from our matches against Gombak United and SAFFC.

Duncan Elias had a solid game, protecting our left flank well.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Geylang's new signing, Stefan Milojevic, was a handful with his height and frame, but the French-Serbian met his match in the twin towers of Daniel Hammond and Fabien Lewis. Armanizam Dolah was also fielded as the midfield enforcer of the day as Han Yiguang had to sit out this match after getting a red card in the last round's match against the Young Lions.

Armanizam did a good job, protecting the back four and keeping Michael King quiet for the most part of the game, as well as pushing the ball forward for Moon and Akil.

Neil Vanu made his first start immediately after returning from his one year stint with the Young Lions, and the forward added plenty of pace and trickery to the Woodlands attack.

Hussein Akil and Michael King in an aerial duel.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

It wasn't hard to imagine who would score the first goal when we have one of the best strike partnerships playing in the S.League for us when Hussein Akil latched on to a Moon Soon-Ho assist to slot home his third goal of the season.

Playing for a team languishing in the bottom, the pair certainly have an amazing record of 10 goals and 3 assists between them. Even's writer, Gary Koh, was impressed with what he saw:

"The foreign strike pair of Moon Soon Ho and Akil were constantly putting the white shirts on the back foot as they dictated the pace of the game in the first half.

They showed fluency in their passing and movement going forward, while Geylang were content to punt hopeful long balls that were often received by grateful blue shirts."

Hussein celebrates with Neil after he slots home his third goal of the season.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Well, as we lick our wounds and look forward to the next match against Albirex, the Rams must retain their tenacious mentality which they displayed in the matches against Tanjong Pagar, Courts Young Lions and Geylang. The season ain't over till its over.

Come On You Rams! Never Surrender!

For more photos of the match, please check out Andrew's album here.