El-Masri breaks duck to brighten mundane game
Photography by Aundry Gan
A solitary early goal by Sherif El-Masri gave the Courts Young Lions a 1-0 victory against Gombak United in an otherwise mundane encounter at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday evening.
The Canadian headed home Fazli Ayob’s cross from close range after 13 minutes, and that goal proved to be the winning one as the Young Lions recorded back-to-back wins after their 5-0 mauling of Tanjong Pagar United the week before.
The Bulls came at the Young Lions with renewed vigour in the second half, but despite dominating possession and camping in the hosts’ half, they were unable to create many clear-cut opportunities, with Hafiz Rahim missing a glorious chance in the last minute of regulation.
With the victory, the Young Lions move into eleventh in the league with seven points from nine matches.
For Gombak, this fourth defeat of their season leaves them seventh in the league with twelve points from ten matches.
Mustaqim Manzur made Gombak’s starting eleven after recovering from a neck injury to support Hafiz and Jung Hee Bong from the wing.
With Nurullah Hussein suspended, Shafuan Sutohmoh was pushed into the uncomfortable position of rightback to deal with the fleet-footed El-Masri.
At the other flank, Robin Chitrakar opted to start Fazli, who brought to an end an unhappy stint with Malaysia Super League outfit LionsXII.
Jonathan Toto found himself on the bench to make room for Fazli, as Chitrakar reported that the Frenchman had picked up a knock.
It was a gamble that paid amazing dividends just 13 minutes into the match. Released by Faris Ramli down the right, the 22-year-old delivered a peachy cross to the unmarked El-Masri, who had the easy task of heading the ball into an unguarded net.
The absence of white shirts from the area was explained by the fact that defenders Obadin Aikhena and Walid Lounis thought they had succeeded in playing Fazli offside, only for the flag to stay down.
Aikhena had a great chance to equalise just a minute later when his header from a corner was cleared off the line by Hafiz Abu Sujad, but other than that, Gombak could not fashion a solid reply.
Instead, it was the Young Lions who were on top for the period immediately after the goal.
With possession on their side, they threatened to heap more misery on Gombak and double their lead with the attacking duo of El-Masri and Faris doing fantastically on the wings to provide the fullbacks in white much to think about.
Fazli continued to impress as well, with his free kick from the edge of the area headed over by Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman before Hafiz had an attempt from outside the area easily held by Zaiful Nizam.
On 32 minutes, El-Masri had a brilliant opportunity to double his tally for the season when he found himself unmarked in the Gombak penalty area.
However, the former Home United starlet dragged his shot well wide, and Shahfiq Ghani was unable to right the error despite being nearby.
At the other end, the Gombak attackers were really struggling as the hosts held them off well.
Hafiz Rahim was probably the only threat to the Young Lions, and it was his audacious volley from the right side on 42 minutes that needed the palms of Syazwan Buhari to intervene by deflecting it onto the bar.
The second half was not a great spectacle, unfortunately, as the home side opted to sit on their one-goal advantage while soaking up the pressure from the men in white.
It was a strategy that worked in frustrating the Bulls, who were chasing a second consecutive win themselves to close the gap on the top six.
The towering presence of Jung Hee Bong cut a forlorn figure up front, as the Young Lions defenders did a good job of keeping him quiet.
Julien Durand, who scored two goals in the last two games, was also uninspiring on this occasion, and the Frenchman was eventually taken out with 26 minutes remaining.
The first shot of the half only came after Durand’s exit, when Nur Naiim Ishak, who had earlier replaced Shafuan, sent a tame shot that was way too easy even for the inexperienced Syazwan.
At the other end, Faris was almost released clean through by Sirina Camara, but Zaiful was quick out of his penalty box, and the result was a collision between the two players that, while dramatic, was never illegal.
Soon after, Lounis miskicked his volley as the ball flashed across the penalty area, showing the entire Jalan Besar Stadium why he is not a striker.
Toto replaced Fazli for the Young Lions in the last 23 minutes of play, but he was unable to replicate the form he showed against Tanjong Pagar where he scored two goals, his best contribution this time being a blazed shot that flew across the sky.
With time ticking down and the match slipping away from them, Gombak had one last chance to equalise.
A long punt up the field was flicked on by Jung into the path of his strike partner Hafiz in the area.
However, with only the goalkeeper to beat, the Singapore international saw his pointblank shot saved as Gombak fell to the Young Lions.
Chitrakar was pleased with his players’ work, especially after defending their way out of the second half.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with the performance,” beamed the former national player.
“It was definitely not an easy game, but the boys stood tall. In the first half we came out and played really well, and after the goal, we played conservatively as we knew they could hit high balls and quickly counter, which will make it hard for our defenders.
“These are three points that we were looking for throughout the season. While there was an element of luck in this victory, the boys still stood tall and we should take nothing away from them.”
His opposite number K. Balagumaran was disappointed, feeling that his side could have claimed the three points instead with the chances they had.
“We could have won 3-1,” he told sleague.com.
“I’m happy with the way the team came back in the second half, and it could have been a very different score if we took our chances. But the way we played in the second half, we could have won 3-1.
“We created more chances than the Young Lions, but our finishing fell short. We kept our style of play, though, and I’m proud of the performance.”