Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reaction: Harimau Muda vs Woodlands

It was a match billed as the northern derby as the Young Malaysian Tigers faced Woodlands Wellington, a team who were located closest to the border. Harimau Muda came into this match expecting an easy game and boy, were they in for a big surprise.

Guntur Djafril tussling with Harimau Muda striker Izzaq Faris Ramlan.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

On a sodden Yishun pitch. the Woodlands players expanded every last ounce of energy in their bodies and displayed their fierce tenacity and fighting spirit on the pitch, refusing to give up despite pre-match predictions heavily favouring Harimau Muda to put three or more goals past the Rams.

Armanizam did well in both attack and defence. Raddy - are you watching?
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

In the opening quarter, it was evident that the Rams were not just here to make up the numbers. Backed by the mesmerizing war drums in the away stands, the Rams were here to fight for a result. And fight they did. Every time the Young Tigers surged forward seeking an early goal, the Rams would reply with promising counter-attacks of their own. The pair of Moon Soon-Ho and Farizal Basri were constantly breathing down the Harimau Muda defence's neck.

Farizal was a constant threat to the Harimau Muda's defence.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

And this gutsiness did eventually pay off when they were awarded a free kick just outside the Harimau Muda penalty box. Daniel Hammond's low shot was driven into the wall and Armanizam Dolah's curling effort off the rebound saw Harimau Muda custodian Izham Tarmizi pulling off a magnificent dive to his left to parry the ball away. However, Izham's subsequent lunge at Moon Soon-Ho, who fancied his chances off the ricocheted ball, was deemed to be too dangerous and referee K. Kalimuthu immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Moon made no mistake from the spot as he cooly slotted home the spot kick for his 5th goal of the 2012 campaign.

Moon cooly slotting home his spot kick
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Harimau Muda team, apparently shocked by the Rams' lead, started pushing bodies forward in search of an equalizer. However, this meant that they would inevitably be exposed at the back, leaving all sorts of holes for the speedy Moon and Farizal to exploit. Farizal was presented with a couple of chances to put the Rams further ahead but he was let down by poor finishing on both occasions.

Ahmad Hazwan tripped by Edward Tan's sliding tackle, earning a lifeline for his team.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Young Tigers were offered some sort of reprieve when they were awarded a penalty in the 37th minute when Ahmad Hazwan, whom Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee recently praised for his ability and potential to be "better than Safee Sali", was brought down by Edward Tan's tackle. The highly rated Wan Zack Haikal was tasked to take the penalty but the No. 16 could only bury his head in his hands as the outstanding Ahmadulhaq Che Omar guessed the right direction of the ball and saved the spot kick convincingly, to the joy of the Black Sheep.

Up steps Wan Zack Haikal...
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
Ahmadulhaq was equal to the task of keeping the spot kick out.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
Fantastic save by a fantastic keeper.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

While there was plenty of excitement in the first half with both sides playing lovely football, the same cannot be said for the second half.

Harimau Muda came out looking for the all important equalizer and surged forward aggressively and the Rams soaked up the relentless pressure. Perhaps sensing that they were not making any headway to score in open play, the Young Tigers made sudden changes to their style of play rather uncharacteristically.

Now Harimau Muda is a team that I respect very much prior to this match,  and we all know that these young Malaysian boys have bags of talent. But I was shocked to witness them suddenly dropping like flies everywhere on the pitch.

Pretty much a summary of the second half.
I think the Young Tigers spent more time on their backs then on their feet.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Take Wan Zack Haikal for example. A shining example of a star winger, the young Malaysian dribbles with much aplomb and shows most defenders a clean pair of heels. However, the Wan Zack Haikal we saw in the second half was a totally different player. As soon as a tackle comes in, the amazing and pacy winger turns into a guy who falls at the slightest touch as if he just got shot by a sniper hiding in the HDB block overlooking the stadium. And referee K. Kalimuthu was having a field day, handing out free kicks all over the pitch against the Rams.

Dropping like flies all over the place. Is it a coincidence that the
same player is involved in almost every infringement?
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Soon, more Harimau Muda players followed suit. It was like watching a synchrony of falling yellow jerseys all over the place. When the skillful Gary Robbat entered the Rams' penalty box, Woodlands captain Daniel Hammond put in an attempt to tackle the ball from Robbat. The Malaysian jumped up in the air like a salmon and landed face first on the pitch in a move which would have made the entire China National Diving Team proud. Referee K. Kalimuthu awarded his second penalty to the Young Tigers and this time Robbat placed the spot kick into the top left corner with an unstoppable shot. A beautiful penalty, yes, but the means of getting the penalty was simply disgraceful.

Sensing referee K. Kalimuthu's generosity in handing out penalties, the usually sporting Young Tigers continued their theatrics when they realised that they were never going to put any past our resolute defence in open play.

The Malaysians must be singing:
"Can we have Kalimuthu (pictured above in sensitive new age pink) every week?"
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

K. Kalimuthu would complete his hat-trick of penalties (cue applause) for Harimau Muda when Wan Zack Haikal showed his team mates how it should be done when he tried to better Robbat's Oscar-worthy efforts by staying down longer and even cringing with more conviction than the latter, drawing angry chants of "Divers! Divers!" from the disgruntled away crowd. Wan Zack must have felt triumphant as his wonderful play-acting got Goh Swee Swee his second yellow of the night, while Harimau Muda captain Affize Faizal dispatched the spot kick to give the Young Tigers the lead

How many times do we have to see this, Wan Zack? Dreadful!
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As the referee blew the final whistle, the scoreline did not do justice to the Rams' gutsy performance on the field. Tipped to be on the losing end of a huge scoreline, our boys certainly did not let that happen.

On a positive note, Ahmadulhaq Che Omar carried over his inspirational form from the SAFFC game, pulling off save after save to keep the Rams in the match. With his draconian effort, I am sure he has earned even more plaudits after that fine penalty save and his overall performance. The Rams' No. 1, who once commented that he counts former Woodlands goalkeeper Sandro Radun as one of his inspirations, is sure on the path to becoming a Woodlands legend himself.

Andy Ahmad was disciplined and displayed maturity far beyond his years.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Andy Ahmad was another player who shone when he was thrown onto the field as a right wingback after we were reduced to 10 men. The young 21 year old midfielder definitely did not let his big name opponents faze him, putting in a mature and level headed  performance which was years ahead of his tender age. The youngster is fast becoming a fan favourite and a new nickname, AA27, has been derived among the fans, a tribute to his initials and his jersey number.

The match also saw the return of another fan favourite, the reliable Duncan Elias, after a three week absence due to injury and illness. The affable left-footer came on for Guntur Djafril in the second amidst cheers from the Black Sheep, the cheering amplified by members of the Hougang Hools (Duncan played for the Cheetahs before switching to Woodlands this season) who were sitting in the away stands to cheer the Rams along with the Black Sheep. Duncan plied the left flank and did a decent job against the Young Tigers and it was certainly good to see him back on the pitch once again.

Our very own Twin Towers, Daniel and Fari, kept the Malaysians at bay.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

While most papers and reports would concentrate on the abysmal referring in the game and inevitably focus on the unbelievable number of penalties awarded in a single game, we prefer to focus on the positive side of our Rams, who fought valiantly until the final whistle. And that would be the fact that the highly touted Young Tigers failed to score against a 10 men Woodlands side from open play.

Penalty given against us? We're not going to stop bouncing!
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

I'm not sure if there is such a term as a convincing loss, but we certainly played with conviction against Harimau Muda. There is no such thing as a "sure-win" fixture in the league. Not against our tough boys, anyway.

Who's next? DPMM? Bring them on, I say!

The Rams have a week's break before heading to Brunei for their next fixture on 27th April. Look out for our opponent watch as the DPMM fixture draws nearer!

Braveheart Woodlands fans - We will Never Surrender!
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

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