Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Year So Far: A Candid Mid-Season Review

The 2012 campaign seemed to have started off positively for Woodlands as the Rams won their opening 2 fixtures and sat prettily at the top half of the table in 3rd position. There was real hope of the boys finishing this season with more wins than last year (we ended 2011 with only 2 wins and had the dubious honour of ending up as a wooden spoonist for the second year in a row) and heck, there was even talk of Woodlands becoming possible title contenders to the likes of Home United and Tampines Rovers. The team played a flowing game of attacking football, passing the ball around with confidence, and attacking our opponents with all-round conviction. There was teamwork, runs were made with determination, and tackles were put in with much gusto.

March, however, would prove to be a pivotal point for the Rams. Playing against a top-of-the-table Albirex side, Woodlands resorted to playing a defensive game, putting 8 men behind the ball and soaking up the relentless Japanese attack. We defended the nil-nil scoreline well and were hard done by a freakish incident which saw Albirex clinch a lucky late winner.  Since then, the Rams continued sliding down the table with a barren run of 10 winless games. Fast forward to the present day and we stand in the wake of yet another disappointing 1 - 0 defeat to a 10 men Tanjong Pagar team.

What had gone wrong to Woodlands, you may ask? Why have our battling Rams been playing like lost sheep since that defeat to Albirex?

I've been really baffled by the negative tactics we've been employing match after match. It seems like the team has been instructed to defend from the opening whistle. I do not understand why we need to start every game with 9 men behind the ball. We are not defending a 2 - 0 advantage from the kick-off, mind you. Where's the fire, the hunger to grab the goals we so badly need? Now I may not be a master tactician, but I believe even a layman knows that in order to win games, you have to score goals. However, the tactics employed by the team does make me scratch my head in utter confusion sometimes.

I do not understand why players are constantly played out of position. How can we expect someone to perform if they are not playing in their favoured position? And when they fare badly in that position where they are not used to, who can blame them?

I cannot fathom why we only have 2 to 3 men in the opponent's box when we are taking corners, while the rest are outside the box. Waiting to defend counter-attacks from the opponent? We have doubts in scoring from corners? Where's our self belief?

"Gunthor", Danny and Vincent in happier days after our league win over CYL.
What happened since then?
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

I am confounded by the wingback system we are deploying. It does not seem to be working for the team. We have been exposed countless times by employing this system and we cannot expect our wingbacks to ply back and forth the entire match. Most of the time I see them defending in our own half than rather than bombing forward to support the occasional attack.

We may not have any star players in our team, but there is definitely plenty of talent around. Why aren't we playing more positively to tap on our strengths, rather than just to defend, defend and defend? What is our goal for this year? To end up in any position other than last place? Come on, we're much better than that. Where's the ambition? 

Prior to that, we were playing well as a unit. The team was brimming with confidence and the teamwork was brilliant. What went wrong? The last time I checked we were still the same team with the same players. Where has the hunger gone? Where has the spirit gone? Where is the congruent teamwork, the savvy confidence, the fearsome attack we displayed early this season?

Have we simply resigned to our fate as per the media's prediction of being perennial no-hopers?

The tactics desperately needed a change, but there wasn't any. Match after match, we played defensively and hoped to catch our opponents on the counter. It didn't work and we let in far more goals than we could score.

We are not technically superior like teams playing in the Serie A, crunching out low-scoring draws or one-nil victories. Week after week, I see our boys sitting in our own half and being attacked from the left, from the right and down the middle. More often than not, we let in soft goals. I think common sense tells us that the more chances our opponents have at our goal, the higher their chances of scoring.

Last week's match was no different than the ones before that. We stuck to defensive tactics, conceded a goal and then we tried to equalise. Why didn't we try to clinch that crucial first goal? Why did we start going forward only after we had conceded a goal? And when Tanjong Pagar lost Jonathan Xu at the half hour mark, we started plundering the Jaguars with wave after wave of attack but were unlucky not to score. That display in the second half has shown that we can attack as a team rather convincingly, so why are we not attacking?

Yes, Tanjong Pagar played poorly and were lucky to get away with a win, but the sad fact was that we lost because we were worse than them. If we had employed an offensive mindset, perhaps the scoreline would have been different. Nobody likes to watch their own team playing such negative tactics, or playing defensively from the first minute, and it is even more painful to see some of our players running tirelessly after every ball and try so hard to lift the team up, but to no avail due to the defensive nature of our game. If we play positive football and lose, we would be proud of our team for trying. But now, it seems that our Rams had given up hope of winning a match even before kick off. And that is bad. Really, really bad.

Why are we so low in confidence? Look at Courts Young Lions. The boys were in last place with no wins, but they turned it around and look where they are today. And I shall not get started on Tanjong Pagar as well.

We (the fans) could have simply acted like a lot of fair weathered glory hunters by switching to any other successful club in the S-League. But we are not. This is our club, a club with a long tradition and proud history, and we are seriously bothered by the recent string of results and the negative tactics the team has been employing. We, the fans, have the right to voice out our unhappiness, about how silly the team has been playing and humiliating themselves week in and week out.

Many have mocked me for supporting the wooden spoonists of the league, but I pay no attention to them. I know, one day, my beloved Rams will rise from the ashes once again to become the giants they once were.

And I sure hope it starts with the second half of the 2012 campaign.

Always remember our mantra.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

** The writer is a long time supporter of Woodlands Wellington Football Club since the inception of the S-League in 1996.

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