Harimau Muda shows their mental verve as they rebound from their first defeat of the season and a goal deficit to beat Woodlands Wellington.In a game of penalties galore, Harimau Muda took advantage of referee K Kalimuthu’s generosity to beat a resilient Woodlands outfit and in the process, reaffirm their credentials as title-contenders.
While packed with incidents, it took quite a while before the game started to come into life.
For the first ten minutes, with both teams battling hard to dominate possession in the centre of the pitch, the sideshow came from the stands as both sets of fans traded heated but good-natured barbs at each other.
When the first chance finally arrived on the 9th minute, it came via a free-kick on the edge of the area which Rams forward Moon Soon Ho drifted narrowly over the crossbar.
From that moment on, the chances started to come in thick and fast.
A deep cross in the 15th minute from Harimau’s effervescent Syahrul Azwari found Wan Zack Haikal free on the edge of the box. His first touch set him up perfectly for a rasping shot which was beaten away by the Rams goalkeeper.
The ball rebounded to Wan Zack for a second chance but he only succeeded in skewing his left-footed shot towards the corner flag.
His miss proved to be costly, as in the 22nd minute, Woodlands took the lead in controversial fashion.
Daniel Hammond’s free-kick came off Harimau’s wall and Goh Swee Swee was quick to pounce on the loose ball in the box. His touch seemed to put the ball out of play for a goal kick but he fell under contact from Harimau’s custodian.
Referee K Kalimuthu raised the ire of the home fans by blowing his whistle to signal for a penalty. The Rams’ top-scorer Moon Soon Ho ignored the tantrum of Harimau’s custodian and the barracking of the home fans to coolly slot the spot-kick past the stranded Izham Tarmizi.
With Woodlands having a goal to protect, the game settled into a predictable pattern with Harimau Muda doing all the hard running.
On the 27th minute, winger Syahrul Azwari bamboozled past his marker on the left flank before delivering a inch-perfect cross to the centre that the unmarked top-scorer Ahmad Hazwan headed just over.
Then on the 32nd minute more excellent wing play, this time by Ahmad Hazwan, found Gary Robbat free in the centre of the penalty box.
Robbat arched his body, dispatched his left foot to place the ball into the bottom corner and just as he was about to wheel away in celebration, he found himself somehow denied as the Rams keeper flew acrobatically to his right to tip the ball wide for a corner-kick.
As the half wore on, and with the Harimau players camped in Woodlands' half, the defending from the Rams became even more desperate.
On the 37th minute, the desperation resulted in a penalty-kick for Harimau Muda.
Defender Edward Tan slid in to prevent Ahmad Hazwan from bearing down on goal and he left the referee with no choice but to award a penalty.
The prodigious Wan Zack Haikal confidently stepped up to take the spot-kick but yet again, Ahmadulhaq Che Omar was equal to the task as his full-length dive to the right prevented Harimau Muda from gaining parity.
With that last action of the half, the Young Tigers headed back into the dressing room wondering if it was one of those nights where their profligacy would prove costly.
However, their worries would have been unwarranted as ten minutes after the restart, referee K Kalimuthu awarded the third penalty of the game as he adjudged that Rams captain, Daniel Hammond, had fouled Harimau’s Gary Robbat.
Robbat dusted himself to take over the spot-kick duty from Wan Zack and he showed him how it should be done by smashing it into the top corner that left the excellent Ahmadulhaq Che Omar with no chance.
From then on, Harimau Muda piled on the pressure in search of a winner, and their patience and pressure finally paid off in the 68th minute as Wan Zack Haikal proved too tricky for Goh Swee Swee who needlessly hacked him down in the penalty box.
The referee blew the whistle for a penalty and brandished the second yellow for the makeshift right-back who in all truth had been troubled all night by the pace and trickery of Harimau’s wingers.
Captain Affize Faizal became the third Harimau player to take the penalty on the night and he duly dispatched it by sending the keeper the opposite way.
With a goal and a man superiority, the Young Tigers controlled the remaining twenty minutes of the match to ensure that they remained within touching distance of the league leaders by sealing three points for the night.