A solitary Iqbal Hamid Hussain goal was enough for Gombak United to overcome the Courts Young Lions 1-0 in a rescheduled Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League fixture played out at Jurong West Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The result propelled the hosts to within a point of seventh-placed Singapore Armed Forces FC as they kept up hopes of a strong mid-table finish, even if they had to do it the hard way.
Returning over the weekend from Brunei, where they gained a creditable point against title contenders DPMM FC, the travelling, as well as the gruelling manner in which the Bulls navigated those 90 minutes, could have taken the toll on their bodies.
Indeed, they were not particularly impressive in the first half, with the Young Lions more than a match for them in terms of breaking away on the counter as fullbacks Hafiz Abu Sujad and Faritz Abdul Hameed were involved in overlapping runs and subsequent crosses.
The visitors’ first opportunity came on 13 minutes, after a ball played in by skipper Hafiz was deflected for a corner.
From Benjamin Lee’s resulting delivery, Shamil Sharif had two stabs at the leather and scuffed wide from his second attempt.
Then on 33 minutes, Faritz went down the right channel and whipped in a dangerous cross that Jonathan Toto got his head to, though the French forward’s effort lacked the power to trouble Zaiful Nizam in the Gombak goal.
The marauding rightback was then brought down six minutes later by Nurullah Hussein, but Zulfahmi Arifin’s ambitious curling effort could only clear the bar.
The Bulls did have the better start, however, as they nearly opened the scoring after just over a minute and a half played.
Nurullah’s long throw created confusion in the Young Lions box as Adrian Dhanaraj decided to have a speculative punt on goal, which crashed off the right woodwork with Syazwan Buhari stranded, before Julien Durand put the rebound over.
Gombak kept trying to play their brand of attractive passing football, but they lacked the final touch on a number of occasions.
The closest they went was on 29 minutes, when Chris Anderson slipped an intelligent through ball for Durand to race on to, but the French attacker showed how he was not a natural poacher by sidefooting it wide with just Syazwan to beat.
Gombak coach K. Balagumaran sensed thing were not going right for his side, and he made his first substitution of the night by replacing right winger Samuel Benjamin Nadarajah at half-time with forward Jung Hee Bong.
The lanky Korean was deployed up front alongside Durand, with Hafiz Rahim pushing out wide as a result.
His second trick out of the hat came on 57 minutes, when he replaced the tiring Mustaqim Manzur with the precocious Iqbal on the left flank.
“Samuel didn’t play up to expectations, so I decided to sub Bong in,” said Balagumaran as he explained his moves.
“The opponents were building up well at the back, so the instructions given to Bong were to go in to press the two centrebacks.
“He’s carrying an injury, but he told us he could go in. I also asked the team to play the long ball to him so that he can lay off to Durand.
“Mustaqim was tiring after just recovering from a flu bug he got in Brunei, so I brought Iqbal in. The instructions given to Iqbal were to either take shots or go to the flanks to cross to Bong, because they had (Sirina) Camara missing.”
The pair of substitutions proved to be a masterstroke, with both involved in the all-deciding goal on 59 minutes.
Jung cut inside from the left flank and played a slide-rule pass to Anderson, who in turn clipped a ball through for Iqbal, who was trotting away towards the flag.
The winger took advantage of the acres of space left by the Young Lions defence to fire an unerring left-footed effort into Syazwan’s bottom corner for his first senior goal.
That proved heartbreaking for the visitors, who had missed an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock just five minutes earlier when Toto’s headed effort to reach Shamil’s right-wing ball had been too weak for Zaiful.
Their hopes of getting a result were then vaporized, after Sheikh Abdul Hadi was sent off 13 minutes before the end.
Already on a tightrope due to a booking on the hour mark, the centreback proceeded to take Durand out as the latter ran towards the box, and he was duly sent off by referee Leow Thiam Hoe for a second yellow card.
Holding a one-man advantage, the Bulls should have put the result firmly in the bag, but they were denied by the woodwork and some wasteful finishing.
Jung checked inside his marker on 81 minutes and looked set for his first goal in a while when he let fly from just inside the box, but the left-footed effort could only leave the crossbar bruising with Syazwan well beaten.
Substitute Fairoz Hasan slid Hafiz through on 88 minutes, but the angle was too tight for the 28-year-old, and Ismail Yunos fired over a minute later.
The misses could have been costly as the Young Lions were resurgent during the closing stages.
First Hafiz Abu Sujad fired a snap-shot wide from substitute Fazli Ayob’s cutback on 86 minutes, and then Lounis brought former Bulls trainee Fareez Farhan down outside the box three minutes later, Zulfahmi’s free kick delivery causing chaos before Jung managed to clear.
Eventually, though, the Bulls held out for the crucial three points, as Balagumaran praised the impact his substitutes made.
“Bong did not score, but tactically he helped us a lot, while Iqbal made a lot of difference after he came on,” said the former national youth coach.
“We were more composed with the ball and kept it better than the Young Lions did. They have young players who are fit and fast, but they were always rushing and losing the ball when they came to the attacking third.
“If we keep to this tactical discipline, I’m confident not many teams can beat us easily.”
Young Lions coach Robin Chitrakar could only lament his side’s inability to get a result.
“The boys’ performance today wasn’t too bad,” he told sleague.com.
“People talk about results, but with this team the performance is just as important.
“We came out to play and wanted to win, but it’s unfortunate that we could not get a result. It wasn’t easy with Gombak putting in long balls with a tall striker up front, and they had a lot of men at the back, which meant the boys couldn’t find space.”
Article taken from sleague.com, written by Kenneth Tan
CYL Line up:
Syazwan Buhari, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Emmeric Ong, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Faris Ramli (Fazli Ayob 64″), Shamil Sharif (Tajeli Salamat 80″), Zulfahmi Arifin, Benjamin Lee, Nazrul Nazari (Fareez Farhan 82″), Jonathan Toto