Warriors grind out win to stay in AFC Cup hunt

Great Eastern-YEO's S.League side Warriors FC kept alive their slim hopes of making the AFC Cup Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over India's Churchill Brothers.

Hassan comes to the Warriors' rescue!
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium

Following a goalless first half at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the Warriors scored what proved to be the winner in the 54th minute when Ruzaini Zainal's low cross was poked by Dharmaraj Ravanan into his own net.

The result meant the reigning RHB Singapore Cup champions finally picked up their first points in Group E, and can still qualify for the next stage with the right results in their remaining two matches.

Despite entering Wednesday's clash with just two wins in all competition so far this season, with their last outing a morale-sapping 2-1 league defeat at Harimau Muda, the Warriors started the match the brighter of the two sides and had a couple of chances in the opening two minutes, although both Tatsuro Inui and Erwan Gunawan were unable to hit the target.

Buoyed at their bright start, they continued to enjoy the better of the proceedings but were unable to carve out a real opening in the attacking third; Mislav Karoglan struggling to shake off the attentions of opposition centre-back Lamine Tamba.

As the half wore on, their continued inability to break down Churchill Brothers began to turn into frustration, and sensing the opening, the visitors gradually gained the ascendancy.

Steven Dias was first to threaten to Warriors goal when he curled a lovely freekick into the sidenetting in the 25th minute, before Lenny Rodrigues fired one wide two minutes later after some intricate passing presented him a shooting chance on the edge of the area.

A minute before the half-hour mark, the I-League leaders created their first clear-cut opening when Henri Antchouet won possession from Shukor Zailan and played it to Sunil Chhetri, who waited for his strike partner to race forward before returning him the ball. Breaking into the box, the Gabon international made a yard of space for himself with a clever spin around Abdil Qaiyyim, only to screw a shot wide on his left foot.

By now, the Warriors were beginning to show the same problems they have suffered all season long so far as they struggled to find any sort of rhythm, but the halftime whistle eventually came to their rescue, and the game was then halted for 25 minutes due to lightning.

However, Churchill Brothers showed no signs of being bothered by the delay when play eventually resumed, and had a real chance to score five minutes after the break. A hopeful clearance from Sandip Nandy was missed by Abdil and allowed Antchouet to break through, but just as he looked poised to fire a shot away, Hassan Sunny came to his side's rescue as he raced off his line to clear the danger.

And four minutes later, his contribution proved vital as the Warriors took the lead. Receiving the ball 35 yards from goal, Karoglan played a delightful first-time flick to release Ruzaini down the right, and the 24-year-old proceeded to burst into the box before firing in a dangerous cross that Ravanan could only poke into his own net.

The hosts could have then doubled their lead two minutes later when Karoglan broke the offside trap and charged down the left before firing in a shot on his favoured left foot, but Nandy was equal to the task and made a smart save at his near post.

Despite being ahead, a one-goal lead was never going to be a safe enough margin to sit back on but that was exactly what the Warriors did and it nearly cost them dearly as Churchill Brothers soon dominated proceedings.

Antchouet, in particular, was causing all sorts of problems and in the 65th minute, with the goal gaping, he narrowly failed to connect with a cross from Rodrigues, who had done well to create the opening with a quick burst of pace down the left.

Four minutes later, the Gabonese had another chance when he exchanged a neat one-two with Chhetri but he failed to bring the ball under control first-time and Hassan charged out to narrow his angle, forcing him to fire straight at the covering Marin Vidosevic.

Churchill Brothers were now threatening to score with every foray forward but, as the game entered its closing stages, it seemed a matter of whether they would be able to do so before time ran out.

Ashley Fernandes was next to try his luck in the 81st minute with an excellent 35-yard freekick that sailed just over, before Antchouet's cut-back was met by Jaison Vales with a ferocious first-time effort that safely cleared the bar.

With the visitors pushing more and more men forward, Warriors had an excellent opportunity to kill off the game two minutes from time when Denzil Franco cheaply gave away possession to Inui, who burst forward and sprinted past Ravanan before chipping the onrushing Nandy. But just as Karoglan looked set to pounce and turn the ball into the unguarded net, Tamba weighed in with a timely intervention and headed away the danger.

A minute later, Churchill Brothers had one final chance to force the draw when Chhetri was given too much space on the edge of the box and fired in a blistering effort, but just as the ball looked set to fly into top corner, Hassan produced a flying one-handed save to tip it wide and ensure his side claimed maximum points.

Warriors FC: Hassan Sunny, Daniel Bennett, Abdil Qaiyyim, Marin Vidosevic, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin, Ruzaini Zainal (Dharham Aziz 74'), Shi Jiayi, Shukor Zailan (Matthew Abraham 68'), Tatsuro Inui, Erwan Gunawan (Prakash Manikam 90'), Mislav Karoglan.

Churchill Brothers: Sandip Nandy, Denzil Franco, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Lamine Tamba, Naveen Kumar, Steven Dias (Jaison Vales 75'), Ashley Fernandes, Lenny Rodrigues (Sanjay Balmuchu 76'), Balal Arezou, Sunil Chhetri, Henri Antchouet.

Attendance: 363

Image courtesy of WSG



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