Young Lions lack inspiration in Geylang loss
Ko Po Hui
Photography by Aundry Gan
In the end, neither a motivational talk by a retired global legend nor the return to the action of a much younger local starlet could do enough to inspire the Courts Young Lions as they slumped to a 0-2 defeat at home to Geylang United on Thursday evening.
Playing on their Jalan Besar turf, incidentally the designated venue for all ‘live’ telecast matches – as this one was – the Young Lions were fuelled by a pep talk from former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who had been in town earlier this week.
They also welcomed forward Shahfiq Ghani, who played out the entire second half after returning from a long military training stint in Thailand, while Sherif El-Masri was also playing in Singapore for the first time since completing Canada’s Olympics qualification campaign.
But all that was not enough to fend off Geylang, who won the game thanks to goals from Michael King and Jozef Kaplan either side of the half-time break.
The Young Lions came into this match wanting to wipe off the disappointment of their last game, where the largely inexperienced team fought till the bitter end before losing to Brunei’s DPMM FC due to a late solitary strike.
A win against the Eagles, who were badly thrashed by Tampines Rovers going into this game, would have catapulted the hosts into eleventh place.
Doing that would have required them to find a goalscorer other than Jonathan Toto, though, the former Etoile FC man facing an enforced absence due to new problems with his work papers.
“Toto is having some issues with his registration with MOM (Ministry of Manpower), and for that reason we could not field him for tonight’s game and future games until they are resolved,” explained Young Lions coach Robin Chitrakar at the post-match interview.
“And he is definitely one of the many players we missed.”
If the hosts missed players, their opponents were simply missing shots, and Korean striker Mun Seung Man could have given Geylang the lead after only six minutes.
Pouncing onto a loose ball that came as a result of a slip-up by Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman and Sirina Camara, the former South Korea youth international fluffed his chance and sent the shot over the bar.
A few exchanges came after that attempt, but the Eagles would only come close again after 25 minutes when King’s piledriver from just outside the box rattled the crossbar.
It was a moment that drew evident agony from Geylang general manager Lim Tong Hai, who was seated on the bench alongside the club’s caretaker coach Kanan Vedhamuthu.
The hosts did have their flirtation with glory two minutes earlier, as El-Masri served up a moment of wing wizardry that had been sorely missed while he was away serving his country.
Drilling down the left flank and approaching the goal-line, the former Home United starlet placed a pinpoint ball that was met by Benjamin Lee’s head, but that effort skimmed the crossbar.
Lee could consider himself unlucky not to be able to give his team the confidence that was badly needed, and that miss proved costly when King struck the opener ten minutes before the break.
A free kick outside the penalty area was awarded by referee Leow Thiam Hoe for a foul by Sheikh Abdul Hadi on Mun, and up stepped the Englishman to handle the situation.
With a wicked change of pace, King’s ball deflected off the defensive wall as an error in judgment by Syazwan Buhari left him watching the ball land in goal.
It was a shot in the arm for the men in white and green, who have been enduring a rough patch this season, having lost three of the four matches under Kanan’s charge before this one.
With Kaplan and King linking up nicely in attack, Geylang seemed in a position to promise goals from open play and give something for the 464 spectators gathered in the stands to remember.
It was thus something of a pity that it took a second dead-ball effort for them to double their lead, the former applying a mild headed touch to divert substitute Basil Teo’s indirect free kick beyond Syazwan on 76 minutes.
Chitrakar was left wondering how the goal was allowed to happen, as Teo’s delivery from the left should have been defended much better in his opinion.
“I can’t really see what happened from my position, whether anyone touched the ball or if it went straight in,” remarked the 35-year-old.
“It was really unfortunate to concede such a goal. As a whole, the team should have done a better job in defending a free kick from such a distance.
“It didn’t help that Geylang had started to play with ten men behind the ball in the second half. It was a difficult task to break them down.”
Kanan was meanwhile clearly relieved after snapping a two-game losing streak.
“This win is very important for us, since after beating Balestier (Khalsa), we had two straight losses, and that included the 1-5 loss at home to Tampines last week,” noted the 47-year-old.
“I believe this win will bring them up in terms of morale. They were a bit down before today, and the lift in morale will help our cause when we take on Gombak (United) in our next game.”
Kanan also defended his approach to this match, which saw his team concentrate more on stifling his opponents than on going on the offensive.
“I know how the Young Lions played in their last few games, which was mainly dependent on long balls,” he pointed out.
“We have to be patient, and that means we must not open ourselves up and allow them to come at us. That explains the defensive approach we took tonight.”