Home 3 Gombak 0 | Protectors improve but still not entirely convincing

Posted on February 25, 2011

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Home United recorded a 3-0 victory in their first game at the Bishan Stadium since 2008. The title favourites put out an improved performance compared to their frustrating 1-1 draw with Balestier Khalsa last week, but were still not entirely convincing. Two of the three goals were scored from the penalty spot, and both came in the last 20 minutes. During this time, Gombak’s Obadin Aikhena missed an open header from 6 yards off a corner, and Shafuan Sutohmoh saw his fantastic 20m shot rock Home’s crossbar, with Lionel Lewis stranded.

Starting XIs

Home started again in their 4-2-3-1 formation, with Shi Jiayi again as the central playmaker. Seeing how deep he sat here again, I think Home’s formation actually more resembles a 4-2-1-3. But with Qiu Li back and Sufian Anuar in good scoring form, it’ll be interesting to see how Lee Lim Saeng fits the two – along with Fred Mendy and Kim Dae Eui – in his starting XI. Farizal Basri was a shock replacement for Isa Halim in centre midfield, partnering Nor Azli Yusoff. Not a slight to the players, but a year ago Nor Azli was slogging away for Sengkang Punggol, while Farizal warmed that club’s bench. And yet here they were, starters in Home’s historic return game at Bishan.

Gombak played a lopsided 4-4-2, with the natural wide player Hamqaamal Shah on the left and the midfield schemer Ridhwan Jamaludin on the right. I had mentioned in my look at Gombak’s 1-1 with Tampines last week that to have Park Kang Jin and Ridhwan both as midfield cloggers was a waste of their creative talents, and Darren probably thought a bit of freedom for one of them – Ridhwan in this instance – could help his team.

Home’s fluidity: 4-2-1-3 to 4-4-2 and back again

While Home started out in the 4-2-1-3, they moved into a 4-4-2 after ten minutes, then changed back into their original shape, and back to a 4-4-2 again before the half was up. With no real indication the instruction came from the bench, it seems likely that Lee Lim Saeng has drilled his team to vary their shape every now and then, simply to avoid being predictable and one-dimensional.

In the 4-4-2, Sufian would go up top, alongside Mendy. Mendy would then pull out wide to play in between the lines of Walid Lounis and Jaslee Hatta, causing them many problems and earning quite a few freekicks. He definitely had more success here than as the main striker in a 4-2-1-3, where he would be up against Obadin. The goal came when Home was in a 4-4-2.

Home’s front six in the 4-2-1-3

Home’s front six in the 4-4-2

Mendy managed to dispossess Jaslee on the right flank, and Sufian made a clever run to the front post to connect a glancing header to Mendy’s cross. A bit harsh to blame Gombak goalkeeper Zakariah Nerani, but he probably should have gotten something on the effort.

What was noticed in Home’s 4-4-2 shape also, is that Jiayi would move to the flank, and play on Sufian’s side a lot of the time. It could have been a coincidence, but not so when in the 4-2-1-3. Jiayi tended to drift to the left because Sufian’s advanced position as an inside striker – or interiore – left a lot of space behind him on the left flank.

Overall, Home were pretty fluid, with Mendy + Kim swapping sides with Sufian + Jiayi very smoothly.

Second half: Changes leave Gombak exposed

Darren Stewart threw on Zulkifli Hassim for Ridhwan, and then Ruhaizad Ismail for Jaslee within 15 minutes of the second half, to add pace and natural width to his midfield. Lee put Qiu Li on for Farizal, with Jiayi dropping to partner Nor Azli. The changes left Gombak exposed.

Qiu Li, as he often did with Tampines last year, tends to drift into a left-ish position, although he is far from an orthodox winger. He tends to work the area just between the defence and midfield, just in front of the right fullback, and then makes inward runs. In a sense, an interiore as well. So here, Jeremy Chiang found himself overworked having to look after Sufian/Kim and Qiu Li who wanders into his area. In one of Qiu Li’s inward runs towards goal, Jeremy fouled him from behind, conceding the first penalty.

That penalty – on the 70th minute – saw Lee make another change to his shape, a variation of the 4-5-1. Home played in formation inthe last 20 minutes, and during this time, a breakaway from a corner saw Kim’s through ball from the right flank fortuitously sit up for Firdaus Kasman, who had made a lung-bursting run from midfield. His first shot was saved by Zakariah but the goalkeeper just touched Firdaus’s boots as he went for the rebound, to conceded a penalty. 3-0 on 83 minutes, game, set and match.

Conclusion

Home did well to vary their shape so they weren’t too one-dimensional. However, they were not totally convincing going forward, and never really tested Gombak goalkeeper Zakariah.

Defensively, they also looked shaky. Lionel did not seem to want to catch the ball – given the wet conditions, perhaps understandable – but overall he didn’t look to comfotable as well under crosses, and parrying a long shot wide for a corner in the first half when he should have caught the ball.

However, the changes here were encouraging, and with Qiu Li back, Home should get stronger as the weeks go by, and the players get to know their teammates and coach’s tactics better.

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