Thursday, May 24, 2012

Match Report: Woodlands vs Johor FA

The month long mid-season break from the S-League following the RHB Singapore Cup tie against Kanbawza would do a world of good for the Rams as they can afford to have a breather after playing a long string of league fixtures against DPMM, Home United, Tanjong Pagar and most recently, the Burmese champions in the Cup.

Breaks like these are always a good time for the club to do their review and assessment of their tactics and finetune the areas which we're weak in, and to experiment with new tactics in friendly matches to determine their effectiveness.

Johor FA was in Singapore on a week long round of friendlies against two S-League clubs and National Football League Division 1 side Singapore Recreation Club. Fresh from beating SAFFC 2 - 1 on Sunday evening, the Johor Scorpions traveled up north to Woodlands to face the Rams two evenings ago in a match that had live highlights which were updated in our Facebook Page and Twitter account by our writer who was at Woodlands Stadium. 

Fandi is accompanied by his younger son, Ikhsan, in the Johor dugout.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
The Scorpions in their bright red kit.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Rams emerged from the tunnel in their green Singapore Cup kits and Salim Moin made little changes to the side which started against Kanbawza. K. Sathiaraj was placed in a defensive midfielder ahead of a back four consisting of Duncan Elias, Daniel Hammond, Fabien Lewis and Danny Chew, while Aloysius Yap and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman were deployed in the middle of the park. Guntur Djafril and Goh Swee Swee maintained their winger roles, supporting a lone Moon Soon-Ho who was playing alone upfront.

Johor fowards Yusri Abas (left) and the highly rated Muriel Orlando (right).
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Johor FA opted to kick off the first half of the game without their Argentinian hitman, Muriel Orlando, as the Scorpions had played a tough match against SAFFC just 2 days earlier. Defender Tharmini Saiban was handed the captain's armband ahead of usual team captain Nazrulerwan Makmor, while first team regulars like hardworking Ashadi Yusoff and tricky Fazly Mazlan were included in the starting eleven.

Johor's skillful winger, Fazly Mazlan (No. 18).
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As the Rams made their way onto the pitch, Woodlands Coach Salim Moin was seen gamely shaking Johor coach K. Sukumaran's hand, wishing him with a hearty "All the best!". Fandi Ahmad was also seated prominently on Johor's bench, decked out in the blue officials' attire for the Scorpions.

Shamsurin's million dollar smile.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Pre-match pleasantries between the Woodlands and Johor players.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

First Half

Woodlands won the coin toss and were given the opportunity to kick off the match, and the game started off fairly slowly, with both sides sharing even possession. Woodlands and Johor seem to be evenly matched and it seems that both teams would have a hard time trying to search for the first goal. The Woodlands backline played well under pressure and dealt with Johor's aerial balls perfectly.

Fari's commanding presence helped to stabilise the Rams' defence.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
Duncan Elias kept a close watch on Hazsyafiq Hamzah,
keeping the Johor midfielder quiet during the entire first half.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Johor FA gave the Rams a scare in the 7th minute when tricky winger Fazly Mazlan blazed past Danny Chew but his low cross was put out by the alert Daniel Hammond before it could cause any real damage. The resultant corner, the first of this match, was easily punched out by reserve goalkeeper Ang Ban Heng, who was named in the starting lineup for the first time this season. 

Ang Ban Heng in goal for the Rams.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As the match progressed, it was refreshing to see defender K. Sathiaraj playing comfortably in the role of a holding midfielder. The Woodlands number 12 was thrown into the deep end last weekend when he was substituted into the game against Kanbawza into the space in front of the back four and performing beyond expectations.

"Utility Man" Sathi played his heart out even though it was a friendly game.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Guntur Djafril, who sat out in the match against Kanbawza, was also a livewire down the left and constantly threatened the Johor backline with his menancing runs and short one-twos with Aloysius Yap.

"Gun-Thor" generated numerous chances going forward.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

In this evenly matched contest, the brightest spark of the game so far would be the pace and trickery of Fazly Mazlan, as he created a couple of chances for the Scorpions down the left flank. The Malaysian gave Danny Chew a torrid time but Chew recovered well and paired up nicely with the defensive pair of Daniel Hammond and Fabien Lewis, who were were on hand to provide backup and nullify the threat posed by the Johor winger.

Danny gets the better of Johor's Fazly Mazlan in this challenge.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Moon Soon-Ho had a real chance to put the Rams ahead in the 29th minute when he latched on beautifully to a through ball and charged into the Johor penalty box, but the Rams' top scorer's indecisiveness let him down. Moon was in two minds as to whether to shoot or to pass the ball across to the waiting Aloysius Yap and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman, and the Johor defence did not hesitate to clear the ball away from the Korean foward's feet.

Moon would be disappointed not to have scored.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Presented with a second chance in the 31st minute, Moon had no qualms about his move this time round. He coolly rounded a defender after a wonderful layoff from Goh Swee Swee and lets fly with a rasping shot from 20 yards but Johor goalkeeper K. Sasi Kumar, a former Harimau Muda player, did well to parry the shot away.

Woodlands started to utilise their wingers more wisely and Guntur Djafril and Goh Swee Swee were looking lively down the flanks. A foul on Goh led to a free kick from the right, which was swung in by Duncan Elias towards the towering Fabien Lewis at the far post. Lewis was tripped before he could leap for the ball and the referee blew his whistle immediately for a penalty, ignoring the appeals from the crowd of Johor players surrounding him.

Goh Swee Swee stepped up to take the penalty and cooly sends Sasi Kumar the wrong way with a blistering shot which found the top left hand corner of the Johor custodian's goalpost, giving Woodlands the lead in the 35th minute of the match.

Swee Swee and Faizal Mansor fought a tough battle down the Rams' right flank.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Sensing that perhaps a tactical change was required to tilt the balance in their favour, K. Sukumaran made an early change by sending on midfielders Faizal Mansor and Nufitrah Mohd Shah for the Scorpions in the 38th minute.

Shortly before the half-time break, Swee Swee managed to try another shot from distance but he was visibly disappointed when his high shot was flew someway off the right of the goalpost.

Second Half

Johor restarted the second half and whatever coach K. Sukumaran said to the players must have worked as the hungry Scorpions threw their numbers forward in search of an equalizer. Striker Syamim Yahya was unlucky not to have scored as his piledriver from range grazes Ang's crossbar in the 52nd minute. That would have been some goal.

Prime League player Ali Razali played wonderfully and certainly did not look out of place.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Salim Moin soon made massive changes to the side as he threw on no less than 8 players, among them S-League players Farizal Basri, Hussein Akil, Armanizam Dolah and Han Yiguang. Prime League players Zulkarnain Malik (defender), Dinie Fitri (defender) and Ali Razali (midfielder) were also given the proverbial baptism of fire when they were brought on against a tough Johor side.   

Yiguang was handed the captain's armband as Daniel Hammond went off and the Rams' defence now comprised of Zulkarnian, Dinie, Edward Tan and Vincent Lee. For the Scorpions, changes were also made and Muriel Orlando was finally brought onto the pitch to lend some bite to Johor's attack.

Yiguang takes over the captaincy for the second half.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The fresh legs seemed to help the team gain back some ground as the Johor defence was hit by a series of counterattacks. A cross by Han Yiguang into the box saw Hussein Akil attempt an overhead kick in the 55th minute but the Lebanese-Australian could not connect with the ball properly.

Hussein Akil was deployed as a lone forward and was tightly marked by Johor.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

It was end to end action from this point on as dangerman Muriel Orlando nearly scored for Johor 2 minutes after Akil's attempt but the Argentinian must be wondering how he missed a sitter from 5 yards out when Ang's mistake presented the Scorpions' forward with an open goal. Orlando missed a square ball from Syamim Yahya completely when he really should have stuck out his leg to poke the ball in.
Johor custodian, K. Sasi Kumar.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

A minute later, the Rams were attacking the Johor goal once again. Armanizam Dolah tried a cheeky lob on Sasi Kumar from distance but the Johor custodian, who was watching it all the way, caught the ball comfortably and immediately despatched the ball forward.

The ever-present Syamin Yahya showcased his skill once again when he turned past leftback Edward Tan and cut outside Dinie Fitri's tackle before hitting the upright once with a delicate chip over the onrushing Ang Ban Heng. What a goal that would have been but it was not the Johor forward's day.

A crucial tackle also had to be put in by Vincent Lee to dispossess Yusri Abas in the 62nd minute. The Johor forward would have been clear on goal in a one-on-one situation with Ang if Lee had not put in that tackle. Fantastic play by the right back.

Vincent Lee defended well and even had the opportunity to bomb forward down the right flank.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Woodlands' first choice goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar came on for Ang Ban Heng in the 63rd minute and he was called into action a few minutes later when he parried two consecutive shots by Orlando to keep the advantage in Woodlands' favour.

Johor wasted another clear chance to equalise in the 71st minute when Muriel Orlando's goal bound header off a corner kick was headed away from danger by his own team-mate, Tharmini Saiban. The defender was trying to get out of the way of Orlando's effort but was unfortunate to have headed the ball unintentionally when it was mere inches away from the goal line.

Armanizam Dolah helping out in defence.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Ahmadulhaq made another important save in the 75th minute when he rushed off his line to clear a through ball before Orlando could get there - swift and decisive goalkeeping from the Woodlands custodian to maintain the scoreline.

Shortly  after, Vincent Lee made a beautiful run down the flank to swing in a prospective cross. The impressive Ali Razali peeled away from a sleepy Johor defence and almost gave the Rams a two goal cushion but could not connect his header and could only hold his head in his hands as the chance goes wasted.

Ali holds his head in his hands in despair as he spurns a chance to put the Rams two goals up.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Scorpions' tenacity were finally rewarded in the 83rd minute when a free kick from the left was volleyed into goal by Ashadi Yusoff to equalise the score. It was indeed great play by the visitors, creating a goal out of seemingly nothing. That goal also seemed to wake Johor up from their slumber as they threw bodies forward looking to overturn the game in their favour. It took some top draw defending from our boys to keep the Scorpions out.

Edward Tan was presented with virtually the last real chance of the game but the left footer placed his free kick high above Sasi Kumar's goal, the Johor keeper heaving a sigh of relief. Soon after, the referee blew for full time, drawing the curtain on a great, lively game between two hungry sides.


Any doubt about the Rams' ability to play entertaining football would surely be dispelled after this energetic performance against an industrious Johor side. Although the Rams have been playing defensively in the S-League before the cup game against Kanbawza, their matches against Kanbawza and Johor have convinced me that tactical changes are being made in the team and I am confident that the enthralling brand of football I've seen at the Woodlands Stadium on Tuesday would be carried forward to the second half of the S-League season.

Ali Razali (left) and Zulkarnain Malik (right) in action.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

First team debutants Ali Razali, Zulkarnain Malik and Dinie Fitri also impressed with their energy and composure in the second half. The 20 year old Ali put in an inspiring performance and more first team experience would do this young boy a whole lot of good. Zulkarnain and Prime League vice-captain Dinie also defended well against a dogged Johor offense and the exposure would be beneficial to the youngsters. The Junior Rams aren't faring too badly in the Prime League under coach Marko Kraljević's tutelage and we can be assured that they would be ready to step up their game if the need arises.

Players posing for a photo with Fandi.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As for Johor FA, I feel that this is a very good side which plays an attractive style of football, and I hope they can gain promotion to the Malaysian Super League next season to showcase their skills and teamwork in the top flight.

Our next game would take place on 15th June against the Courts Young Lions. We look forward to the rejuvenation of the Rams to arrest the slump in our form so far. Never Surrender!

Final Score:

Woodlands Wellington  1 : 1  Johor FA

Woodlands - Goh Swee Swee  35' (PK)
Johor FA - Ashadi Yusoff  83'

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

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Just to let you know that Kanbawza are not the Burmese champions. Yangon United are the defending champions. Kanbawza was fourth last season. This is not important, just for info. :) Good report on the game against Johor FA!