League Cup: Aliff profits from late Jaguars crash
Muhd Khalis Rifhan
Photography courtesy of SAFFC
SAFFC got their season back on the winning track as they defeated Tanjong Pagar United in their opening StarHub League Cup Group A match on Thursday evening, scoring a 3-0 victory.
The result at Choa Chu Kang came through a brace from former Jaguars midfielder Aliff Shafaein and a goal from youth forward Marin Jonjic, all scored in the second half of the game.
Despite the seemingly wide margin, the gap in performance between the two sides was not really that great, as SAFFC were finding it hard to penetrate a resolute Tanjong Pagar backline for the most part.
Indeed, the hosts looked awful at the start with a plethora of missed passes, and it was only a late crumbling on the visitors’ part after conceding the first goal that led to the two that followed.
Tanjong Pagar coach Terry Pathmanathan was clearly not pleased with how his team had allowed that collapse, and declared his defenders guilty of making mistakes that cost them the game.
“I’ve still got a big problem with the defending, and it is very disappointing,” said the former national sweeper.
“It’s no use coming up with various formations and tactics if this is the kind of quality that they show to me.
“At the end of the day, if as a defender you are unable to keep track of your men, they are going to break away from you, and it’s going to be very difficult for the team.”
The match saw SAFFC field a lineup featuring a number of little-used players, led by none other than former national custodian Rezal Hassan.
Rezal, coming back out of retirement while serving as the club’s goalkeeping coach at the same time, was given the start alongside the likes of wingback Ruzaini Zainal and mid-season signing Marin Jonjic.
Prime League defenders Eddie Chang and Matthew Abraham, who had recently recovered from an injury, were also involved as used substitutes alongside Erwan Gunawan, while senior regulars Noh Rahman and Mislav Karoglan sat out.
“This is the time to see the rest of the players have a go at first team action, and I feel that they all did well,” evaluated Warriors coach Richard Bok at the end of the game.
Rezal made two brilliant saves that kept his team in the game, and he told sleague.com he was delighted to be able to return to action and secure a clean sheet along the way.
“It’s good to be back in action, but for me it’s just another game,” said the 37-year-old.
“After our loss in the league against the Courts Young Lions, the team knew that we have to perform in the League Cup and get back to a winning mentality.
“It’s good that the team played well; we scored three goals, and the defenders also did their job. The important thing is for me to command the players from my position, and I feel I had a good game doing that.”
The good game was initially Tanjong Pagar’s, though, as they did well to contain the SAFFC pressure – at least for the first 64 minutes.
But then they were caught napping and paid dearly for it.
Shukor Zailan played a precise through ball between former Warriors men Hafiz Osman and Hanafi Salleh, and Aliff ran past his markers to get to the end of the pass before slamming the ball into the back of the net.
Buoyed by the long-awaited lead, SAFFC threw men forward quickly in search for more goals.
On 68 minutes, Fazrul Nawaz went on a solo run into the penalty box before unleashing a powerful shot, but Fajar Sarib was equal to it.
Eight minutes later, Aliff had his second goal of the evening as he cleverly sneaked behind the Jaguars defence to latch on to a Shimpei Sakurada lob and got himself into a one-on-one situation with Fajar in goal.
‘The Little Master’ made no mistake with his shot, and the Warriors were in a more comfortable position after enduring some nervous times.
In fact, only some wayward shooting from the visitors and Rezal’s safe old hands ensured that there would be goals at only one end of the pitch.
Rezal was certainly in top shape when he stopped Hafiz from scoring on 62 minutes, when the Tanjong Pagar No.3 attacked a corner kick with a typical pinpoint header.
It was then Gilbert Bayonne’s turn to have a go some time later as he sent in a low thunderous shot, but once again Rezal showed he has not lost his touch with a comfortable dive to the side.
While Bayonne had no luck, there was still time for one more goal at the other end of the field, and it came for a man who was making his senior debut for the Warriors.
Jonjic showed fortitude in venturing into the penalty box alone in the dying minutes of the match, and despite being surrounded by several players in the red and white of Tanjong Pagar, he still managed to squeeze a shot through the sea of legs and into the net.
Having hit seven goals in his five Prime League appearances so far, the 20-year-old was certainly on fire, but he was quick to play down his achievements.
“It’s my first game for the senior team, and I am thankful to the coach for giving me the opportunity to start tonight,” he told sleague.com.
“I had previously scored lots of goals in the Prime League, but the S.League and the League Cup are really a different level.”
Bok meanwhile focused on the overall picture as he spoke with a satisfied smile.
“We struggled in the first half, but we managed to pick up the game in the second half,” he observed.
“We played the last 30 minutes better compared to the first 30 of the game, when I felt the players looked lethargic.
“At the end of the day, this is a good three points for us as we only have three teams in each group in the competition.
“Hopefully we are able to win our next game against DPMM FC and top the group. It’s not easy to play against the Bruneians, but it’s always good to aim for three points.”