By Yogaraj Panditurai/Red Sports
Sengkang Hockey Pitch 1, Monday, March 20, 2017 — Defending champions St. Andrew’s (SA) Secondary School tasted defeat for the first time in this year’s National B Division Hockey Championship when they lost 0-1 to Raffles Institution (RI) in a Round 2 group game.
The match’s sole goal came 10 minutes from time when Ethan Tan (RI #7) pounced on a misplaced pass between the SA backline and ran free to easily slot home.
With both teams already through to the semi-finals, the game was to decide who topped Group X.
Despite the defeat, the Saints were the more dominant side throughout the match. SA were relentless in attack, forcing the Rafflesians to stay back and defend for the entirety of the first half.
SA came close to taking the lead inside 10 minutes when centre midfielder Naveen Kumar’s (SA #7) slick dribbling fooled the opposing defenders and he was through on goal. However, RI custodian Amir Khaliq (RI #40) blocked Naveen’s low shot.
That set the tone for the rest of the match as Amir was called into action time and time again to deny the Saints. The 15-year-old, who is yet concede in the competition so far, once again found himself blocking Naveen’s close-range attempt from a short corner.
A few minutes before the break saw SA squander arguably their best goal opportunity when Naveen dispossessed RI’s Muhammad Haikel (RI #17) and was in a one-on-one situation with Amir. The Saint fired a driven shot to the far post but Amir’s quick reflexes ensured both sides headed into halftime level.
In the second half, SA switched tactics. Previously, they played short balls in quick succession down the middle to exploit gaps in the RI backline but the Saints were now launching lob balls down the flanks for their forwards to latch onto and cut inside.
SA’s change in playing style still kept RI on the back foot and the latter worked very hard to keep possession. The Saints kept pressing forward and looked threatening during their short corner attempts but all their hard work was undone by a defensive lapse which allowed RI to grab the vital goal.
The remainder of the match saw SA pile on the pressure in search of an equaliser but RI defended resolutely in the last 10 minutes, pulling bodies back and chasing every ball. One more chance to score proved elusive for the Saints as RI held on to steal the victory and remain undefeated in the competition.
RI coach Ahmad Bakri, looking jovial after the win, said: “Our boys didn’t play that well today. St. Andrew’s controlled 70% of the game and were hard on us. Defensively we held on and the credit must go to the backline, especially the goalkeeper. Amir showed good mental strength and helped the side a lot today.”
“We managed to beat the defending champions but we shouldn’t be over-confident now. I want us to still remain focused and take it game by game. Anyone from the semi-finals can still win the tournament and we should make sure we do our job.”
RI shot-stopper Amir also echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying: “SA tested us the most and they were very eager to shoot. My back four were very impressive and beating the champions is definitely a morale booster. However, we need to still work hard and prepare as best we can for the semi-final.”
On the defeat, SA coach Paramjit Singh said: “I’m honestly happy for the team because they stepped up and played their hearts out. They played well and showed their hunger but one area we really need to work on is our finishing.
“We have to be more clinical in front of goal but the RI goalkeeper put on a good performance. He made some very good saves and denied our forwards clear chances to score.”
The result puts RI on top on Group X with nine points, above second-placed SA (six points) and both teams have advanced to the semi-finals. Eliminated sides St. Joseph’s Institution lie third on three points and Woodlands Ring Secondary School finish bottom with no points.
RI vs SA
Ethan Tan (#7)
Joash Tan (#11), Alton Chua (#10), #Muhammad Raziq (#9), Justin Lee (#6), Ethan Tan (#7), Thangavel Pandi Sushin (#14), Ifran Ahmad-Ul Qayyum (#19), Darius Quek (#28), Tony He (#38), K Parithimaal (#4), Ethan Wah (#5), Muhd Khairul Irzhan (#8), Adib Rifa’i (#12), Balraj Singh (#13), Muhammad Aqil (#16), Muhammad Haikel (#17), Chia Yu Ang (#20), Tristan Tan (#21), Syaquille Izzad (#27), Amir Khaliq (#40)
St Andrew’s Roster
Dashielle Lim (#6), Mohamed Salman (#9), Sean See (#27), Azeezur Rahman (#17), Ira Cheong (#10), S Nilesh (#24), Joshua Teh (#18), Zhuo Kai Yao (#15), Nashwyn Singh (#5), Gurditt Singh (#3), Dylan Yew (#14), Naveen Kumar (#7), Adam Ho (#29), Isaac Cheong (#11), Muhammad Shazrin (#1), Noah Hau (#2), Lavin Nathaniel (#8), Lucas Jong (#41), Karnakishen (#26), Xavier Lee (#16)
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