Friday, March 20, 2009

Signed, sealed Njoku delivers against Young Lions

Ong Jiing Yih

Nigerian Kingsley Njoku made a triumphant return to Gombak United with a last gasp winner to see off the Young Lions at the Jurong West Stadium.

A late addition to the Bulls squad ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline, albeit a familiar one having turned out for Gombak last season, Njoku headed in from Agu Casmir’s cross on 90 minutes to seal the win and keep his side in touch at the top of the table.

It was also a dagger into the hearts of the Young Lions, after the heroics of captain Isa Halim and company looked to have led them to a draw against one of the S.League’s form teams.

Brimming with confidence, Njoku said: “The moment I came on I told my team mates we're going to win this.

“Having studied the game before I came on, I followed [head coach Darren Stewart's] instructions and eventually got a goal. It's a great way to announce my return to the team.”

The 2,606 fans at Jurong West witnessed a slow burner of a game, with little action in the first half before heating up ahead of Njoku’s late intervention.

Even with the more creative Ridhwan Jamaludin in the side following last Friday's 1-1 draw with Home United, Gombak struggled to create meaningful chances in front of goal.

Meanwhile, the visitors left out Gabriel Quak and Goh Swee Swee, with the incoming Arif Aiman doing a decent job for his side and aiding his team's cause with a number of brave blocks.

Stout defending from Shahir Hamzah then prevented Ojimi Gabriel Obatola from making full use of a haphazard clearance, with the Nigerian's attempted snapshot eventually nipped in the bud.

28 minutes on and the game needed something to inject life into it. However, Obatola could do no more than dip his freekick over the crossbar, and the chance went begging as a result.

Having cancelled out each other both sides came out of their shells.

Irwan Shah strode down the left and centred, where the lurking Fadhil Noh contrived to miss a sitter, with little pressure on him.

The action gradually swung back in favour of Gombak, who had Emmanuel Emuejeraye blasting over Obatola's delivery from outside the box just before the break.

The start of the second half saw Young Lions tactician Terry Pathmanathan bring on K. Sivaseshan for his S.League debut.

Irwan reversed roles with Fadhil, latching onto the latter’s cross and sending his header just wide.

However, the fervent home support urged Gombak on and one sensed that the tide was slowly but surely turning in their favour, with Obatola nearly profiting from Afiq Yunos’ slip.

Obatola then missed the target again, before Obadin Aikhena rather unconvincingly sliced Jaslee Hatta’s testing ball into the box away.

But try telling that to Isa and his colleague Faritz Abdul Hammed, two athletic individuals who made full use of their runs to ask questions of the Gombak defence.

Substitute Sivaseshan caused panic on the hour mark when he forced Sevki Sha'ban to bring him down, earning the Bulls skipper a booking.

On 65 minutes, he broke forward and raced clear with Bah Mamadou in his wake. His toe poke went past Gombak keeper Fadhil Salim, but Sevki just managed to hack it off the line.

Gombak then came close to breaking the deadlock with Obatola striking the post, and Agu could only divert Ruhaizad Ismail’s pull-back into the arms of keeper Jasper Chan.

Back at the other end it was edge of the seat stuff as Aikhena had a header cleared off the line, coupled with a powerful drive by Sivaseshan and a straightforward save by Fadhil Salim from Fadhil Noh's daisycutter.

But the Bulls never let up and regained the initiative, as Agu saw his first attempt hit Aikhena's body on 75 minutes before he fired straight at Chan with the follow-up.

Shafuan Sutomoh and Arif both exchanged efforts on goal two minutes from the end of normal time, but neither did enough to trouble respective goalkeepers.

Njoku's entrance into the game on 70 minutes was telling, with a series of direct runs keeping the visitors on their toes.

He combined with Agu to good effect, and the latter almost stole a goal from out of nowhere but for Chan's point-blank intervention to keep the Young Lions in the game.

Sadly, a monumental late collapse which enraged their head coach Pathmanathan saw Young Lions' hopes of getting a point go up in smoke.

Some absent-minded marking following a Gombak corner allowed Agu to deliver a cross into the box, which Njoku grabbed at gleefully for the winner having lost his marker Afiq.

Cue wild and deserved celebrations as the goal maintained Gombak's unbeaten run and completely knocked the stuffing out of the visitors.

Coach Darren Stewart was once again celebrating a late goal, following Goran Subara’s 86th minute equaliser against Home United the week before.

“We created chances and upped our intensity in the second period when the Young Lions counter attacked. There's still some work to do, but overall our hard work paid off,” said the Australian.

Meanwhile, a seething Pathmanathan had some strong words for his young lads who went to sleep at a vital moment.

“There are simply no excuses, we paid the price for a lack of concentration at that moment, especially in the final few minutes. A lack of focus led to poor defending,” said the former Singapore international.

“It was sickening, as the basics of defending, shot stopping, technical ability and finishing were all not good enough. The boys need to take a real good look of themselves in the mirror, to realise that true effort has to be maintained throughout the whole 90 minutes.”

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