League Cup: Rams hold key to reversing fate
Photography by Aundry Gan
After a valiant opening effort against Tampines Rovers that eventually proved futile, strugglers Woodlands Wellington will host an unpredictable Gombak United side on Monday evening in a bid to salvage their StarHub League Cup 2012 campaign.
It has been a miserable season for Rams fans, who might have bought into a false dawn of hope at the start when the club achieved successive wins over the Courts Young Lions and Geylang United in the league.
A harsh last-gasp defeat against Albirex Niigata (Singapore) soon followed, and that marked the start of a 17-game run without a win, a streak that includes their first-round exit at the hands of Myanmar National League side Kanbawza FC in the RHB Singapore Cup.
With confidence in the team at absolute rock-bottom, the Woodlands coaching panel has found it hard all season to rally the players into producing a tip-top 90-minute display.
In fact, the manner of their 1-3 defeat to the Stags last Friday simply reflected how their season has panned out so far – struggling to keep concentration at the back and imploding after they conceded the first goal.
The backline could have been forgiven for the lapse that led to Jamil Ali’s opener, but the manner of the second goal – a missed clearance from captain Daniel Hammond that led to goalkeeper Ang Bang Heng being caught in no man’s land – was simply unacceptable.
Getting a goal back midway through the second half, they then managed to shoot themselves in the foot by conceding just a couple of minutes later.
Woodlands team manager Matthew Michael Tay admitted that the team’s biggest enemies are themselves.
“The key (to getting a win) is ourselves,” he told sleague.com.
“We have to be disciplined, be consistent and not commit silly mistakes. We’re always making the same old mistakes.
“Thus there are no two ways about approaching Monday night’s assignment against Gombak. It seems like we have no choice but to win after losing on Friday.
“It was always going to be difficult against a side like Tampines. That said, we had our opportunities but we couldn’t finish them off.
“It won’t be easy against Gombak also, but we have to do the same thing and hopefully we can score.”
It will be hard for the Rams to predict which Gombak United will turn up on matchday, given the fluctuating form they are in.
Bulls fans will obviously hope their side can turn in the level of performance that saw them overcome Hougang United in the two-legged RHB Singapore Cup quarterfinals, although one cannot rule out the kind of insipid home display they showed against Tanjong Pagar United.
In fact, their march to the Singapore Cup semifinals has been the highlight of their season, thus they are very likely to eye another good run in a local cup competition to boost their confidence.
This match will mark the first time back in charge for Gombak head coach K. Balagumaran following his return from Japan, where he was participating in a coaching course.
In his absence, his assistant Stephen Ng filled the void admirably, so the onus is on the former Tampines youth coach to keep the momentum going.
Balagumaran was sighted in the Clementi Stadium stands, so he is clearly aware of the areas where Woodlands can be exploited.
He has the advantage of a squad enlivened by youth in numbers, with names like Fareez Farhan, Samuel Benjamin Nadarajah and Nurullah Hussein exciting the Jurong West crowd this season.
The League Cup could be a platform for him to give other young starlets opportunities to shine – fledglings such as Amin Rossady, Farouq Farkhan, Iqbal Hamid Hussain, Zulfadhli Emran and Ahmad Suhaimi.
However, if Salim Moin’s men need even the smallest bit of inspiration, they can perhaps look back at a league encounter in March where they shut the Bulls out at Jurong West.
Woodlands will be boosted by the return of two key personnel. First-choice custodian Ahmadulhaq Che Omar should return to replace Ang between the sticks, while Farizal Basri is likely to make way for the comeback of livewire Goh Swee Swee.
Midfielder Aloysius Yap may also get the nod over hard man Armanizam Dolah after a useful substitute display against the Stags that yielded a goal – an impeccable volley that nearly tore the net at Clementi.
However, key defender Fabien Lewis is still out with a hernia injury, so rookie centreback Zulkarnain Malik should continue to deputise at the heart of the Rams defence alongside Hammond.