SAFFC 1 Johor FC 2 | Warriors bogged

Posted on January 16, 2011

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I actually arrived almost half an hour late for this game, and by then the scores were already 1-1. Despite missing two goals, I did catch the winner – a stunning 25-meter shot by one of the Johor FC midfielders – just before half-time. And despite not seeing any other goals in the second half, there were a couple of interesting observations that could be made.

The Starting XI

Richard Bok again went for a straightforward 4-4-2, and it seems this will be his formation of choice for the new season. Bok in the past has tweaked his side to play a 4-5-1 in a number of Asian Champions League games against superior opponents in the past two seasons, buthe need not worry about that now since the Warriors (and no Singapore team, in fact) are not in the tournament this year.

Left-winger Taisuke Akiyoshi was experimented on the right flank, while Rhysh Roshan Rai and Ivan Jerkovic held the two centre-midfield spots. New signings Fazrul Nawaz and Mislav Karoglan played upfront.

The opening two goals

As I have said previously, I hold my hands up – I missed the first two goals of the game! But speaking to a player I know, Johor struck first by scoring off a rebound after Hyrulnizam Juma’at had made an initial save after about 15 minutes. The equaliser was netted by Mislav, who finished after being put through by rightback Noh Rahman about 10 minutes later.

I was eager to see the Croatian-born Bosnian striker, on loan from Croatian top tier club NK Rijeka, in action ever since he was revealed as a signing at the turn of the year. I didn’t manage to see him bulge the net, but I did get almost an hour worth of his play. My initial sensing is that he will be a useful player for the Warriors.

With SAFFC’s other strikers – Fazrul, Indra Sahdan and Erwan Gunawan – all being mobile players who like to drop deep or drift into the channels, Mislav makes a perfect foil as the target man. He has a good touch and is very good with his back to goal, and has a couple of tricks in the bag as well – as seen by how he managed to swivel in between two Johor players to earn a freekick in the first half out of nothing. He also showed good awareness bringing his teammates into play, as evidenced by a cute through ball to set Indra off into a 1 v 1 early in the second half, which the Johor keeper did well to save. I haven’t seen enough of his aerial ability though.

The winner: Hafiz O the weak link again?

As I mentioned after watching SAFFC’s 3-2 win over Sabah a few weeks ago, I think Hafiz Osman is a decent rightback but a below average centre-half. Richard Bok seems to disagree. Here, Hafiz partnered Dan Hammond in the heart of the defence again, and in fact even wore the captain’s armband, perhaps a sign he is to be key to Bok’s plans this season. However, he was at blame for one of Sabah’s goals then, and last night, Johor’s winner also came from the area he was marshalling.

The goal was a powerful shot from outside the box, just left of centre. A simple ball had been played to the Johor midfielder from the left flank, and the area where Hafiz – and to be fair, perhaps one of the central midfielders – should have closed down was left open. The Johor player had enough time to shape himself up for the shot, and fired past the hapless Hyrulnizam to make it 2-1. A bit harsh to blame Hafiz, but I am disappointed how the opposition player had so much time at the edge of the Warriors’ area.

The second half: Warriors bogged down

In Roshan and Luka Savic, SAFFC have two clever, economical passers of the ball. Tempted to try them together while also retaining Jerkovic, Richard introduced the young Serb at half-time for Syaiful Iskandar. Akiyoshi assumed his regular position on the left wing while Jerkovic moved to the right.

Unfortunately, Roshan and Luka could not find a rhythm to their passing, because of two factors. First, the cut up and muddy Choa Chu Kang pitch was obviously not suited for a slick, short-passing game. Second, Jerkovic had a tendency to drift into the centre, clogging up the area. As a result, there were six players (three SAFFC, three Johor) players in a concentrated area of the pitch at times, and there was simply no space to play a passing game.

Worse, with Jerkovic unwittingly leaving his flank open, the Johor left fullback pushed on into the open space and made good inroads. One interception midway through the second half after capitalising on Jerkovic’s awkward positioning saw him launch a counter-attack which should have earned Johor their third goal. Unfortunately, their lone striker managed to miss from six yards out even after Hyrulnizam was sprawling on the ground having failed to cut out the low cross from the right.

Conclusion

Richard Bok did not seem too disheartened at the result. And I suppose he shouldn’t be. The Warriors created plenty of chances in the second period but lacked the cutting edge. Maybe it was just the weather, maybe it was just one of those days in front of goal – heck, maybe it was both. Akiyoshi was bright in the second half – he only lacked the decisiveness in the box. Indra and Fazrul both looked good partnering Mislav upfront, while Roshan seems to become more and more accustomed to a leading role in midfield with the departure of John Wilkinson at the end of last year.

However, if the Warriors were to play a 4-4-2, Bok cannot have Roshan, Jervokic and Luka in the same midfield. If he is adamant about stuffing them all in the same midfield, he should consider a 3-man midfield, something like how Johor lined up last night. But that creates more problems, because he would have to tweak his forward line.

All part and parcel of being a head coach or manager though, and I’m sure by the time the S.League kicks off in February Bok will know exactly how to maneuver his squad. He still has time to make some final experiments or tweaks to tactics – the Warriors play Albirex on Wednesday at Jurong East, before travelling to Thailand to play their ex-players Therdsak Chaiman (Chonburi) and Wilkinson (Police United).

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