SAFFC 3 Sabah FA 2 | Positives for Bok as Warriors complete memorable comeback

Posted on December 21, 2010

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I did a double-take when I read SAFFC coach Richard Bok’s comments before the friendly against Malaysian side Sabah FA. On the Warriors’ website, he had said new signing Bah Mamadou “should form a good understanding with Daniel Hammond and Daniel Bennett in a likely back-three”.

Back three? Would Bok actually kick aside his traditional back four – a template he used during the league title wins in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 – in favour of a three-man defence, ala Tampines Rovers? Bok had flirted with the system during the league game against Home United at Clementi earlier this year, switching to the back-three for a few minutes in the first half, and his team did not look comfortable at all.

The Starting XI

The rumours were unfounded, however, as it became apparent that Bok would stick to his 4-4-2 when the teams took to the pitch. In truth, it was an understrength Warriors side, with national players Noh Rahman, Daniel Bennett, Fazrul Nawaz away and the likes of Bah Mamadou, Ivan Jerkovic, Taisuke Akiyoshi, Mustaqim Manzur all not starting.

The only new faces in the First XI were defender Dan Hammond and midfielder Luka Savic. Left-back Shaiful Esah made his first appearance in an SAFFC jersey since rupturing his ACL, MCL and meniscus in the right knee early in 2010.

SAFFC and Singapore fans, rejoice. That cultured left foot is still intact. Shaiful managed to test the Sabah keeper twice with direct freekicks in the first half, and delivered some tasty crosses into the box as always, but seemed sluggish overall. I guess not playing a game for the best part of ten months does take its toll.

There was a scare for Shaiful when he limped off midway through the second half after feeling some discomfort in his right knee, but was walking around fairly comfortably enough after the game, despite having an ice pack strapped to that knee.

Awful refereeing

Just a point to note. I don’t normally comment on referees but this one had an absolute shocker. He booked players for fair 50-50 challenges, made lots of baffling decisions, and even sent off the Sabah left-back for standing over the ball after conceding a freekick in the first half. Look, I don’t like how players prevent teams from taking quick freekicks, but he didn’t kick the ball away or anything like that. The player simply stood in front of the ball. For a second yellow card, that was bonkers. And it’s a FRIENDLY, for fuck’s sake!

Thankfully, there was some common sense as both teams started the second half with 11 men. I suspect SAFFC wanted a good game of football and not a lopsided battle against 10 men, so they allowed Sabah to swap the sent off player with a substitute.

The ref was not done yet though, he managed to send off one of Sabah’s goalscorers – their star forward, the No 26 – before the game was up. Bollocks, absolute bollocks.

SabaHawks pounce on SAFFC’s weaknesses in defence

Anyway, as mentioned earlier, Bok was without rightback Noh Rahman and centre-halves Bah and Bennett, so his defence was not at its strongest. The young Prime League right-back Vincent Lee stood out as the most inexperienced part of the starting backline, and despite having a decent game, was at fault for the second goal. Hafiz Osman, who I feel is a decent enough right-back but a below-average centre-half, was at fault for the first.

A minute after the break, the Sabah No 23 brushed Hafiz  aside and burst into the box in the lead up to the first goal. Shahril Jantan was quick off his line to block, but the ball fell to the Sabah No 26, who had two bites of the cherry in quick succession. His first shot was cleared off the line by Hammond, but he coolly placed his second effort for the opening goal.

Five minutes later, Sabah doubled their lead. Their right-back played a good diagonal ball over the top of Vincent and the left winger nipped in to lift the ball over the onrushing Shahril to make it 2-0.

Roshan and Luka: Midfield maestros

Up till that point, the Warriors had seemed the better side overall. The centre-midfield tandem of Rhysh Roshan Rai and Serbian youngster Luka Savic was a joy to watch. Considering it was their first match together, they showed an extremely good understanding with one another.

If one of them went up, the other would cover him, and vice versa. It was a classic pairing of two box-to-box midfielders. They certainly looked more cohesive than Niklas Sandberg and John Wilkinson ever were in 2010.

It also helps of course, that Roshan and Savic are good, technical players. They rarely took more than two touches on the ball each time, and linked up fairly well to front two Indra Sahdan and Erwan Gunawan, who would take turns to drop deep. Both Roshan and Savic would be suitably rewarded with well-taken goals for their sparkling performances.

The comeback: Sabah defence falls asleep

Roshan sparked the comeback on the hour mark when he controlled a headed clearance at the edge of the area with one touch, before lashing home a superb volley off the underside of the crossbar with his second touch.

The Sabah defence then fell asleep for a period in the second half. Six minutes after Roshan’s goal, Savic stole possession at the edge of the Sabah area and had the time and space to pick his spot and drill a shot low into the keeper’s near post.

Erwan would complete the comeback a minute later, again nicking the ball from a Sabah defender and coolly slotting past the goalkeeper. The young striker would have gotten his second of the evening three minutes later, but saw his shot smack the crossbar and back into play.

Three goals in seven minutes. Incredible.

Conclusion

It might just be a friendly, but there are definitely positives for Richard Bok to take out of the game, not least the comeback itself.

Apart from the two goals conceded which were individual errors from his backup defenders, his backline was fairly solid. The excellent Dan Hammond had an absolutely immense game, winning all the aerial challenges, making several brave blocks and being vocal throughout the entire game. He provided the leadership the Warriors defence was sorely missing last year.

In midfield, as described earlier, the tandem of Roshan and Savic was also superb. The pair might be the key to Bok’s ambition of imbuing a “pass-and-move” style of play into SAFFC, based on the game of the top Japanese and Korean teams.

It might only be three weeks into their pre-season, but the Warriors look good – definitely better than they did in their first pre-season match before the 2010 season, a 3-1 win over the Singapore Cricket Club. If they continue to improve and the missing players can gel into the team well, the Warriors will certainly be in with a decent shout to reclaim the title they consider their possession.

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