Thursday, May 24, 2012

Match Report: Woodlands vs Johor FA

The month long mid-season break from the S-League following the RHB Singapore Cup tie against Kanbawza would do a world of good for the Rams as they can afford to have a breather after playing a long string of league fixtures against DPMM, Home United, Tanjong Pagar and most recently, the Burmese champions in the Cup.

Breaks like these are always a good time for the club to do their review and assessment of their tactics and finetune the areas which we're weak in, and to experiment with new tactics in friendly matches to determine their effectiveness.

Johor FA was in Singapore on a week long round of friendlies against two S-League clubs and National Football League Division 1 side Singapore Recreation Club. Fresh from beating SAFFC 2 - 1 on Sunday evening, the Johor Scorpions traveled up north to Woodlands to face the Rams two evenings ago in a match that had live highlights which were updated in our Facebook Page and Twitter account by our writer who was at Woodlands Stadium. 

Fandi is accompanied by his younger son, Ikhsan, in the Johor dugout.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
The Scorpions in their bright red kit.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Rams emerged from the tunnel in their green Singapore Cup kits and Salim Moin made little changes to the side which started against Kanbawza. K. Sathiaraj was placed in a defensive midfielder ahead of a back four consisting of Duncan Elias, Daniel Hammond, Fabien Lewis and Danny Chew, while Aloysius Yap and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman were deployed in the middle of the park. Guntur Djafril and Goh Swee Swee maintained their winger roles, supporting a lone Moon Soon-Ho who was playing alone upfront.

Johor fowards Yusri Abas (left) and the highly rated Muriel Orlando (right).
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Johor FA opted to kick off the first half of the game without their Argentinian hitman, Muriel Orlando, as the Scorpions had played a tough match against SAFFC just 2 days earlier. Defender Tharmini Saiban was handed the captain's armband ahead of usual team captain Nazrulerwan Makmor, while first team regulars like hardworking Ashadi Yusoff and tricky Fazly Mazlan were included in the starting eleven.

Johor's skillful winger, Fazly Mazlan (No. 18).
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As the Rams made their way onto the pitch, Woodlands Coach Salim Moin was seen gamely shaking Johor coach K. Sukumaran's hand, wishing him with a hearty "All the best!". Fandi Ahmad was also seated prominently on Johor's bench, decked out in the blue officials' attire for the Scorpions.

Shamsurin's million dollar smile.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Pre-match pleasantries between the Woodlands and Johor players.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

First Half

Woodlands won the coin toss and were given the opportunity to kick off the match, and the game started off fairly slowly, with both sides sharing even possession. Woodlands and Johor seem to be evenly matched and it seems that both teams would have a hard time trying to search for the first goal. The Woodlands backline played well under pressure and dealt with Johor's aerial balls perfectly.

Fari's commanding presence helped to stabilise the Rams' defence.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)
Duncan Elias kept a close watch on Hazsyafiq Hamzah,
keeping the Johor midfielder quiet during the entire first half.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Johor FA gave the Rams a scare in the 7th minute when tricky winger Fazly Mazlan blazed past Danny Chew but his low cross was put out by the alert Daniel Hammond before it could cause any real damage. The resultant corner, the first of this match, was easily punched out by reserve goalkeeper Ang Ban Heng, who was named in the starting lineup for the first time this season. 

Ang Ban Heng in goal for the Rams.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As the match progressed, it was refreshing to see defender K. Sathiaraj playing comfortably in the role of a holding midfielder. The Woodlands number 12 was thrown into the deep end last weekend when he was substituted into the game against Kanbawza into the space in front of the back four and performing beyond expectations.

"Utility Man" Sathi played his heart out even though it was a friendly game.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Guntur Djafril, who sat out in the match against Kanbawza, was also a livewire down the left and constantly threatened the Johor backline with his menancing runs and short one-twos with Aloysius Yap.

"Gun-Thor" generated numerous chances going forward.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

In this evenly matched contest, the brightest spark of the game so far would be the pace and trickery of Fazly Mazlan, as he created a couple of chances for the Scorpions down the left flank. The Malaysian gave Danny Chew a torrid time but Chew recovered well and paired up nicely with the defensive pair of Daniel Hammond and Fabien Lewis, who were were on hand to provide backup and nullify the threat posed by the Johor winger.

Danny gets the better of Johor's Fazly Mazlan in this challenge.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Moon Soon-Ho had a real chance to put the Rams ahead in the 29th minute when he latched on beautifully to a through ball and charged into the Johor penalty box, but the Rams' top scorer's indecisiveness let him down. Moon was in two minds as to whether to shoot or to pass the ball across to the waiting Aloysius Yap and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman, and the Johor defence did not hesitate to clear the ball away from the Korean foward's feet.

Moon would be disappointed not to have scored.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Presented with a second chance in the 31st minute, Moon had no qualms about his move this time round. He coolly rounded a defender after a wonderful layoff from Goh Swee Swee and lets fly with a rasping shot from 20 yards but Johor goalkeeper K. Sasi Kumar, a former Harimau Muda player, did well to parry the shot away.

Woodlands started to utilise their wingers more wisely and Guntur Djafril and Goh Swee Swee were looking lively down the flanks. A foul on Goh led to a free kick from the right, which was swung in by Duncan Elias towards the towering Fabien Lewis at the far post. Lewis was tripped before he could leap for the ball and the referee blew his whistle immediately for a penalty, ignoring the appeals from the crowd of Johor players surrounding him.

Goh Swee Swee stepped up to take the penalty and cooly sends Sasi Kumar the wrong way with a blistering shot which found the top left hand corner of the Johor custodian's goalpost, giving Woodlands the lead in the 35th minute of the match.

Swee Swee and Faizal Mansor fought a tough battle down the Rams' right flank.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Sensing that perhaps a tactical change was required to tilt the balance in their favour, K. Sukumaran made an early change by sending on midfielders Faizal Mansor and Nufitrah Mohd Shah for the Scorpions in the 38th minute.

Shortly before the half-time break, Swee Swee managed to try another shot from distance but he was visibly disappointed when his high shot was flew someway off the right of the goalpost.

Second Half

Johor restarted the second half and whatever coach K. Sukumaran said to the players must have worked as the hungry Scorpions threw their numbers forward in search of an equalizer. Striker Syamim Yahya was unlucky not to have scored as his piledriver from range grazes Ang's crossbar in the 52nd minute. That would have been some goal.

Prime League player Ali Razali played wonderfully and certainly did not look out of place.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Salim Moin soon made massive changes to the side as he threw on no less than 8 players, among them S-League players Farizal Basri, Hussein Akil, Armanizam Dolah and Han Yiguang. Prime League players Zulkarnain Malik (defender), Dinie Fitri (defender) and Ali Razali (midfielder) were also given the proverbial baptism of fire when they were brought on against a tough Johor side.   

Yiguang was handed the captain's armband as Daniel Hammond went off and the Rams' defence now comprised of Zulkarnian, Dinie, Edward Tan and Vincent Lee. For the Scorpions, changes were also made and Muriel Orlando was finally brought onto the pitch to lend some bite to Johor's attack.

Yiguang takes over the captaincy for the second half.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The fresh legs seemed to help the team gain back some ground as the Johor defence was hit by a series of counterattacks. A cross by Han Yiguang into the box saw Hussein Akil attempt an overhead kick in the 55th minute but the Lebanese-Australian could not connect with the ball properly.

Hussein Akil was deployed as a lone forward and was tightly marked by Johor.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

It was end to end action from this point on as dangerman Muriel Orlando nearly scored for Johor 2 minutes after Akil's attempt but the Argentinian must be wondering how he missed a sitter from 5 yards out when Ang's mistake presented the Scorpions' forward with an open goal. Orlando missed a square ball from Syamim Yahya completely when he really should have stuck out his leg to poke the ball in.
Johor custodian, K. Sasi Kumar.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

A minute later, the Rams were attacking the Johor goal once again. Armanizam Dolah tried a cheeky lob on Sasi Kumar from distance but the Johor custodian, who was watching it all the way, caught the ball comfortably and immediately despatched the ball forward.

The ever-present Syamin Yahya showcased his skill once again when he turned past leftback Edward Tan and cut outside Dinie Fitri's tackle before hitting the upright once with a delicate chip over the onrushing Ang Ban Heng. What a goal that would have been but it was not the Johor forward's day.

A crucial tackle also had to be put in by Vincent Lee to dispossess Yusri Abas in the 62nd minute. The Johor forward would have been clear on goal in a one-on-one situation with Ang if Lee had not put in that tackle. Fantastic play by the right back.

Vincent Lee defended well and even had the opportunity to bomb forward down the right flank.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Woodlands' first choice goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar came on for Ang Ban Heng in the 63rd minute and he was called into action a few minutes later when he parried two consecutive shots by Orlando to keep the advantage in Woodlands' favour.

Johor wasted another clear chance to equalise in the 71st minute when Muriel Orlando's goal bound header off a corner kick was headed away from danger by his own team-mate, Tharmini Saiban. The defender was trying to get out of the way of Orlando's effort but was unfortunate to have headed the ball unintentionally when it was mere inches away from the goal line.

Armanizam Dolah helping out in defence.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Ahmadulhaq made another important save in the 75th minute when he rushed off his line to clear a through ball before Orlando could get there - swift and decisive goalkeeping from the Woodlands custodian to maintain the scoreline.

Shortly  after, Vincent Lee made a beautiful run down the flank to swing in a prospective cross. The impressive Ali Razali peeled away from a sleepy Johor defence and almost gave the Rams a two goal cushion but could not connect his header and could only hold his head in his hands as the chance goes wasted.

Ali holds his head in his hands in despair as he spurns a chance to put the Rams two goals up.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Scorpions' tenacity were finally rewarded in the 83rd minute when a free kick from the left was volleyed into goal by Ashadi Yusoff to equalise the score. It was indeed great play by the visitors, creating a goal out of seemingly nothing. That goal also seemed to wake Johor up from their slumber as they threw bodies forward looking to overturn the game in their favour. It took some top draw defending from our boys to keep the Scorpions out.

Edward Tan was presented with virtually the last real chance of the game but the left footer placed his free kick high above Sasi Kumar's goal, the Johor keeper heaving a sigh of relief. Soon after, the referee blew for full time, drawing the curtain on a great, lively game between two hungry sides.


Any doubt about the Rams' ability to play entertaining football would surely be dispelled after this energetic performance against an industrious Johor side. Although the Rams have been playing defensively in the S-League before the cup game against Kanbawza, their matches against Kanbawza and Johor have convinced me that tactical changes are being made in the team and I am confident that the enthralling brand of football I've seen at the Woodlands Stadium on Tuesday would be carried forward to the second half of the S-League season.

Ali Razali (left) and Zulkarnain Malik (right) in action.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

First team debutants Ali Razali, Zulkarnain Malik and Dinie Fitri also impressed with their energy and composure in the second half. The 20 year old Ali put in an inspiring performance and more first team experience would do this young boy a whole lot of good. Zulkarnain and Prime League vice-captain Dinie also defended well against a dogged Johor offense and the exposure would be beneficial to the youngsters. The Junior Rams aren't faring too badly in the Prime League under coach Marko Kraljević's tutelage and we can be assured that they would be ready to step up their game if the need arises.

Players posing for a photo with Fandi.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

As for Johor FA, I feel that this is a very good side which plays an attractive style of football, and I hope they can gain promotion to the Malaysian Super League next season to showcase their skills and teamwork in the top flight.

Our next game would take place on 15th June against the Courts Young Lions. We look forward to the rejuvenation of the Rams to arrest the slump in our form so far. Never Surrender!

Final Score:

Woodlands Wellington  1 : 1  Johor FA

Woodlands - Goh Swee Swee  35' (PK)
Johor FA - Ashadi Yusoff  83'

For more photos of the match, please check out Andrew's album here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Opponent Watch: Johor FA (Friendly Match)

As part of their round of friendly matches in Singapore, Malaysian Premier League side Johor FA will face Woodlands Wellington in a friendly match tonight. The southern Malaysian outfit is probably most famous for snaring Singapore soccer legend Fandi Ahmad as their technical adviser and team manager back in early February 2012. Tengku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, the Crown Prince of Johor and also the president of Johor FA, was reported to have influenced Fandi's decision to join the club.

Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad in Johor FA's dugout.
Photo Credit:  Jengking Fan Club

Fandi's team has been a revelation against Singaporean opposition so far, gunning down SAFFC 2-1 two days ago at the Choa Chu Kang stadium and the Malaysians will be confident to continue their winning run in Singapore. While the scorpions (Johor FA's nickname) lost narrowly to a LionsXII team led by the in-form ex-Woodlands striker Agu Casmir in a friendly in Larkin about three weeks ago, they will still be a formidable opponent for the Rams, who are still licking their wounds after that defeat against Kanbawza which sent them reeling out of the RHB Singapore Cup.

Fandi's immediate concern is to help Johor FA gain promotion to the Malaysian Super League and the match experience obtained from playing teams in the S.League will no doubt be helpful for his charges. Despite his appointment with the Malaysian team, Fandi shuttles very often between Johor and Singapore, where he coaches the H-Two-O Ultimate Dream Team on Tuesdays and Thursdays and also coaches at the Fandi Ahmad Academy on weekends. So, in any case, the footballing legend is still very much connected to the development of football in Singapore.

The Johor FA squad which faced LionsXII in Larkin.
Photo Credit: Jengking Fan Club

Johor FA is currently in 4th place in the Malaysian Premier League with 16 matches played. Although the Scorpions play in the second tier of football, that does not dent their fervent support with over 6,700 likes on their fan club's Facebook Page - the Jengking Fan Club (Jengking is Malay for scorpion).

Ervin Boban in
Johor FA's colours
Like Woodlands Wellington, Johor FA is a club with a long history and rich tradition which used to lock horns with Singapore in the FAM Premier League in the early nineties. Ervin Boban (left), a Woodlands legend in his own right, also used to play for Johor before he crossed the Causeway to join us during our inaugural season in the S.League. The 47 year old is now a youth team coach for his hometown team, RKN Split, back in his native Croatia.

Other big names include Aussies Abbas Saad and Alistair Edwards, both whom also plyed their trade in Johor before switching sides to Singapore. The former is now a familiar face on TV as a pundit with Astro Supersports while the latter is an assistant technical director with the FFA (Football Federation Australia) youth team.

During those days in the nineties, Johor were often known as draw specialists and the media had a field day writing about how they drew almost every game. Well, they seem to have shaken off that tag in the last decade and to cement that fact, the Scorpions won their last 4 Malaysia Premier League games on the trot before edging SAFFC.

Johor boasts a team with a number of fast attacking players, with Argentinian striker Muriel Orlando one of their fastest and most skillful players. The 23 year old has been instrumental in Johor's attack and will have to be well marked. Johor's playmaker, André de Silva, will also have to be watched closely as the Brazilian is a midfielder in the same mould as KBZ's Nunes Tercio, who orchestrated the play so effectively duing our RHB Singapore Cup loss to the Burmese champions. Despite their foreigners' influence in Johor's play this season, veteran player Fauzzi Mohd Kassim is the one banging in the goals for them this season. The midfielder from Malacca has 4 goals to his name so far and he will be keen to get on the scoresheet once again.

Muriel Orlando (in red).
Photo Credit: Jengking Fan Club
Fauzzi Kassim (in white) shielding the ball during Johor FA's victory over LionsXII in a friendly in late 2011.
Photo Credit: Jengking Fan Club

The Scorpions play a typical wingback system and this has proven to be the winning formula for the Larkin-based team. This friendly will be a good opportunity for Woodlands Wellington to try out the new tactics (which assistant coach Clement Teo mentioned in the match before Kanbawza) against a very good Johor side to gauge and fine-tune the shape and playing style that best suits our team.

For those who can make it down to the stadium, admission is free. We will also be updating live match highlights on both our Facebook page and Twitter account. (Twitter users, kindly note that the match updates will be tweeted under the #WWvJFA hashtag)

Match Information
Date: Tuesday, 22nd May, 2012 (5.30pm kick-off)
Venue: Woodlands Stadium
Admission: Free

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reaction: Kanbawza FC vs Woodlands

When Kanbawza FC coach PN Sivaji was approached by the swarm of reporters after his side's win over Woodlands Wellington, the former Lions coach certainly did not mince his words.

"I’m surprised at the luxury of space we’re given in an expected high-tempo Cup affair, Woodlands made us look good by sitting back and letting us dictate." said Sivaji. "If there was pressure in midfield from the start, then we would have found ourselves under real threat." [source: &]

Kanbawza coach PN Sivaji in a pre-match interview.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Had the Rams started off with a more attack-minded approach, Soe Min Oo's early goal could have been prevented. Instead, Woodlands back-peddled from the starting whistle and allowed Kanbawza to run at them, giving Myanmar international Soe just enough space to cut through the defence and send a deflected shot past the stranded Ahmadulhaq, sending the partisan Burmese crowd into rapture as early as the third minute.

Soe Min Oo (left) scoring the first goal for Kanbawza
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Once again, we found ourselves in familiar territory, falling behind to a soft goal and spending the rest of the game looking to overturn the score.      

From Sivaji's post-match comments, it was evident that Kanbawza's Achilles heel lay in their midfield. Unfortunately, we failed to take advantage of that and allowed their influential Brazilian midfielder, Nunes Tercio, to control the game. We hardly troubled the Kanbawza goal in the first half and it was painful to watch the Burmese side send wave after wave of attack on our goal while Myanmar's first choice goalkeeper, Kyaw Zin Htet, was practically smacking mosquitoes around his six yard box.

Daniel Hammond was busy all night dealing with Kanbawza's crosses and punts
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Armanizam Dolah would have been a formidable opponent for Nunes, but he did not start the game along with winger Guntur Djafril. Both regulars were also not named on the subs bench for reasons unknown. Moon Soon-Ho cut a lone figure upfront as Hussein Akil was deployed as a deep lying playmaker. Akil's pace in the final third was sorely missed and Goh Swee Swee had to work doubly hard down the flank. Farizal Basri tried to hold up the ball for the rest of the team to push up on the occasional counterattack we had but he was outnumbered every time by the Kanbawza defence.

Fervent "home" support for Kanbawza
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Although the Burmese did not play pretty football, they were disciplined and played well as a unit, effectively shutting out the Rams for the entire first half. They came out for the second half continuing where they left off, their continued pressure on the Rams goal gifting them a penalty in the 61st minute which was subsequently converted by Nunes to give the Burmese side a two goal cushion.

Hussein Akil put in another tireless performance, but could have caused more damage upfront.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Moon Soon-Ho did give the "away" crowd something to cheer about in the 65th minute when he sent his penalty into the top right corner of the goal after he was felled by goalkeeper Kyaw, bringing the Korean marksman's tally to 6 goals so far this season.

Moon sends Kyaw the wrong way.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

This seemed to have given the Rams some hope as they started firing on all cylinders in search for an equalizer. Duncan Elias and Goh Swee Swee starting pushing up the flanks, Han Yiguang was brought in to stabilize the midfield, while Daniel Hammond was pushed forward as a striker to take advantage of his towering frame. Han was particularly impressive, putting in a crucial challenge on Soe when the latter was clear on goal and preventing a larger deficit for the Rams.

Swee Swee piling on the pressure on Kanbawza's Nyana Lwin.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The Rams were left disappointed by some dubious refereeing as Moon Soon-Ho, latching on to a dangerous through ball, was punched on the head by Kanbawza's Ghanian defender Samuel Hanson with a right hook that Mike Tyson would have been proud of. Referee Mohd Taqi stopped play to award a free kick to Woodlands but it should have been an immediately sending off for Hanson. Instead, Taqi kept his cards in his pocket much to the chagrin of the Woodlands supporters.

In the stands, "Siapa Bilang Singapura LionsXII" rang out loudly as the Black Sheep sang their hearts out to voice their displeasure of S.League players being overlooked for the national squad in response to the largely criticised announcement of almost 60% of LionsXII players making up the Singapore team.

"Siapa Bilang Singapura LionsXII" - outnumbered but not outsung.
Photo Credit: FAS

Fight as the Rams could in the final quarter, it all came too little too late as Kanbawza held on for a narrow win to progress to the next round to play Loyola Meralco Sparks in the quarter finals.

As the curtain fell on a nail biting last 20 minutes, sportsmanship was the order of the day as the Black Sheep stood up and applauded the Burmese fans in the home stands, which was swiftly reciprocated with cheers and loud clapping back at us.

KBZ supporter Sean Hein had this to say after the game: "Even though I was supporting KBZ as a Burmese, I love the Rams' supporters. Hope they do well in S. League!"

The human spirit prevails above all.

We sincerely wish KBZ all the best in their Singapore Cup campaign!

The Rams will be taking a three week break before our next league next fixture against Courts Young Lions in the opener of the 2nd half of the Yeo's Great Eastern S.League. 

In the meantime, the team will also be taking on Johor FA in a friendly match on 22 May 2012 at 5:30pm at Woodlands Stadium. Stay tuned for our opponent watch!

Dimana mana kita saudara (We are brothers everywhere!)
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Opponent Watch: Kanbawza FC

The boys take a break from the S-League this weekend to play Kanbawza Football Club (usually shortened to KBZ), one of five invited foreign teams in this year's edition of the RHB Singapore Cup.

The Burmese club is currently leading the MNL Myanmar League table after 13 games with 8 wins, 4 draws and only 1 loss so far and Saturday's match will see Kanbawza coach P.N Sivaji return home to our shores, albeit for a short while.

The Singaporean was recently appointed as the head coach of Kanbawza FC on 1st May 2012 after his two year stint at fellow Myanmar club Okktha United as their technical director and first team coach expired in January this year. Under his tutelage, Okktha United won the Myanmar FA Cup in 2010, a great achievement considering that his team was made up of relative nobodies at that time.

Kanbawza head coach - P.N Sivaji
Photo Credit: Singapore Press Holdings

Sivaji probably need no introduction to fans of Singapore football. The 60 year old was the former coach of Home United and has also held the reins at Balestier Central in the late nineties / early noughties, as well as the Singapore Lions when they were playing in the Malaysia Cup in the early nineties. Sivaji was also a technical director with the FAS in a long list of career accolades and he will certainly be looking to inspire the Burmese to a victory over Woodlands.

Kanbawza FC was only founded as recently as 2005 as an amateur club playing in the semi professional Myanmar League. The league was then refashioned as the Myanmar National League in 2009, which required all teams to turn professional, prompting the club to sign stars such as Myanmar national team captain, Soe Myat Min. Following that move, Soe had the honour of being the most expensive player in Myanmar National League when he moved to Kanbawza from the Ministry of Finance & Revenue Football Team (what a mouthful!) in July 2009.

Kanbawza in their all-white home strip.
Photo Credit: Kanbawza FC

Despite finishing in 4th place consecutively in the Myanmar National League for the past two seasons, Kanbawza seems to have got it right this year as they lead the table with last season's champion, Yangon United, trailing in 3rd place and one point behind them.

Kanbawza boasts a well organized team with 29 year old Soe captaining the side. The midfielder has an illustrious international career, having played 59 times for his country and scoring 16 times, among those were 2 goals in Myanmar's 3 - 4 loss to Singapore in the 2004 Tiger Cup semi finals. He is also the only Burmese international who has scored against Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in international games, making him the clear dangerman for this fixture. Armanizam Dolah should have a busy time marshaling the midfield against the effervescent Soe, while Shamsurin Abdul Rahman should look to trouble the Burmese with blazing runs and crisp passes.

Soe Myat Min playing for Myanmar in the 2004 Tiger Cup.
Photo Credit:

Soe is not the only international playing for Kanbawza. Myanmar defenders Moe Win and Khin Maung Lwin are part of a relatively solid backline. However, the young defence is suspect to lapses of concentration and this is something Hussein Akil, Moon Soon-Ho and Goh Swee Swee should exploit. Our attckers will also be looking to put the ball past first choice Myanmar keeper Kyaw Zin Htet. Striker Soe Min Oo completes the flock of international players in this Kanbawza side, and Daniel Hammond and Fabien Lewis must be wary of the striker's pace and trickery.

The winner of this fixture would go on to the RHB Singapore Cup quarter finals to meet the winner of the Loyola Meralco Sparks - Geylang United fixture and judging by the S-League's match awareness campaign going on in Peninsula Plaza, we can expect a huge turnout of Burmese fans at Jalan Besar. In fact, we will probably be dwarfed by them as they look set to turn out in huge numbers.

What do you say we travel to "Little Myanmar" and give them a roaring good time?

Match Information
Date: Saturday, 19th May, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Jalan Besar Stadium

*Woodlands Wellington has been denoted as the away team for this fixture.

For the latest matchday info and other updates, you are encouraged to follow the Black Sheep on our Facebook page.

Never Surrender! We are behind you all the way.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Opponent Watch: Woodlands vs Tanjong Pagar

Woodlands Wellington takes on Tanjong Pagar United in a Friday night clash tomorrow and it seems that the Rams will face a stiff test against a rejuvenated Jaguars side that posted two back to back wins in as many weeks. Dubbed the "giant killers" as of late, Tanjong Pagar have beaten both Home United and Balestier Khalsa on their home turf in recent weeks, lifting them out of the bottom three to 10th spot, two places above the Rams.

Playing in front of a partisan home crowd at the Woodlands Stadium for only the third time this season, the Rams have to go for the jugular the moment the match kicks off. The prospect of registering our third win against Tanjong Pagar will see us climbing above the Jaguars into the lower mid-half of the table.

Kambing Power - The boys will need lots of it to register our third win of the season.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

The recent form of Tanjong Pagar certainly flatters a side which has only won three games so far, the last two being narrow one-nil victories, and the reason for their poor season so far is their leaky defence. The Jaguars count Singapore international Delwinder Singh amongst their ranks but it seems that even the lanky defender has a hard time keeping the goals out. Tanjong Pagar is probably the only team in the league which employs an all-Singaporean defence, and captain Delwinder will be looking forward to notching the Jaguars' third consecutive clean sheet this week.

TPUFC's Delwinder Singh (Red) closes in on Home United's Franklin Anzite (White).
Photo Credit: Home United

The Jaguars' defence has been exposed many times this season by players with quick feet, and the return of Woodlands' lightning quick Lebanese-Australian Hussein Akil must surely be good news to Salim Moin's charges. The pacy midfielder, who played almost three quarters of last week's loss to Home United and scored a beautiful chip as well, will pose plenty of problems for the Jaguars. Hussein's telepathic understanding with Moon Soon-Ho, praised so many times by the media, will give us plenty of hope against one of the worst defences in the league. Tanjong Pagar has conceded 24 goals so far, only Geylang United has conceded more at 27 goals.

Akil's return gives the Rams plenty of hope.
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Tanjong Pagar's dangerman would be the 23 year old Japanese "assassin" Takaya Kawanabe, who has scored in the last two games against Home and Balestier. The former Omiya Ardija man is known for his skillful touches and silky runs, something which Moon can emulate on the other end of the pitch. Fabien Lewis's continued absence in the Rams' defence means that Captain Daniel Hammond must soldier on with the help of Edward Tan, Duncan Elias and K. Sathiaraj, with promising players like Vincent Lee and Danny Chew waiting in the wings and looking eager to start.

Tanjong Pagar's "Little Master" Aliff Shafaein should have an interesting midfield battle with Armanizam Dolah, while the industrious Goh Swee Swee will be looking to score more beauties like the ones he did against Katong FC in the recent friendly, and the following week in a Prime League match. The tireless Shamsurin Abdul Rahman should also feature prominently, providing plenty of bite to the Woodlands attack against a porous Jaguars' defence.

Super Moon - 5 goals so far. Can he increase his tally against the Jaguars?
Photo Credit:  Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Jaguars coach Terry Pathmanathan certainly did a good job motivating his charges after that discouraging 5 - 0 loss to Courts Young Lions three weeks ago, and the Jaguars look refreshed heading into this fixture. On the other hand, Woodlands will be raring to go back to winning ways in front of the home crowd, bolstered by the return of their key players. The match will also see the return of the famed Woodlands Wellington cheerleaders to Woodlands Stadium, who injected plenty of life to the away stands last week against Home United at Bishan Stadium.

This should be a cracker. Go for goals, Rams. We know you can do it.

Are you ready for this one?  Hold on tight, it's gonna get bumpy.

Match Information
Date: Friday, 11th May, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Woodlands Stadium

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Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)