Zerka stars as Jaguars maul Warriors

Warriors FC's poor start to the 2013 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season continued on Wednesday as they fell to a crushing 6-1 defeat against Tanjong Pagar United.

Warriors FC vs Tanjong Pagar: Monsef Zerka
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Despite taking the lead after just ten minutes through Sufian Anuar, the Warriors found themselves 4-1 down before the half-hour mark after the Jaguars hit back through Kamel Ramdani, Anthony Aymard and a brace from Monsef Zerka.

Ramdani then added a fifth eight minutes after the break for his second of the game, before Zerka ensured he would leave the Choa Chu Kang Stadium with the match ball - and the plaudits - in the 81st minute when he forced an error from Marin Vidosevic and completed his hat-trick.

The defeat, which equalled their biggest-ever home loss, leaves V. Selvaraj's side with just one point from their opening two games and although it is still early days in the new campaign, alarm bells will be ringing in the Warriors camp following their failure to beat last season's bottom two sides.

Last Thursday, the Warriors had to come back from behind twice to force a 2-2 draw in campaign opener against Woodlands Wellington; a result they had to thank Sufian for after he netted a brace to salvage a share of the spoils for his side.

And it was the former LIONSXII striker who helped the hosts to the perfect start on Wednesday when he opened the scoring in the 10th minute, latching onto a long ball and firing a shot that forced Aurelien Herrison into action, before slotting the rebound into the unguarded net.

However, it took Tanjong Pagar just a minute to pull level when Ismael Benahmed found space down the right and floated a good cross to the far post, where Kamel Ramdani was on hand to head home after none of the opposition defenders picked up his late run into the box.

Four minutes later, the visitors enjoyed more joy down the right as Hafiz Nor broke free and whipped in a low cross which was met by Zerka with the faintest of touches, but the Morocco international got just enough on the ball to divert it past Hassan Sunny and into the bottom corner.

By now, rookie Warriors left-back Zakir Samsudin's inexperience was being exploited and he was exposed once more in the 24th minute when Benahmed was left in acres of space and floated a terrific flat cross to the far post to leave Zerka with a simple header to make it 3-1.

Five minutes later, Zakir cost his side another goal when his lack of composure saw him concede an avoidable corner, paving the way for Hafiz Nor to swing a delivery into the box and straight to Aymard, who sent a bullet header past Hassan.

Having seen enough of his side being exploited down the right, Selvaraj immediately addressed the issue by hauling off the teenager off and bringing on the more-experienced Syaiful Iskandar, and the move did go some way in stabilising the Warriors backline.

Now more confident to push forward, the hosts created a good chance to pull one back in the 41st minute when Erwan Gunawan glided past Azhar Ahmad down the right and played in a dangerous cross, but the Jaguars managed to clear their lines before Sufian could pounce.

Right on the stroke of halftime, they carved out another good opening when Shi Jiayi played a deep cross to the back post to Tatsuro Inui, who had ghosted in unmarked at the far post but, from a tight angle, the winger could only head straight at the feet of Herrison.

The French goalkeeper had to be alert again a minute into the second half when he did well to fist away a cross-cum-shot from Erwan Gunawan after the Warriors forward had left two men for dead in a mazy run down the right, but seven minutes later, Tanjong Pagar struck again.

Zerka was once again involved but this time he took on a supporting rule, breaking down the left before switching play to Hafiz, whose right-wing cross was met by Ramdani with a sweet volley that nestled straight into the bottom corner.

The now-infamous lighting warning system, newly installed at all stadiums for the 2013 season, then decided to wreak havoc once more as it was activated six minutes before the hour mark, forcing referee Irwan Samsuddin to halt proceedings and send the players back to the dressing room.

Under S.League rules, a match can only be halted for a maximum of an hour before it is called off and replayed at a later date from the start, with the scores back at 0-0.

That would certainly have been a huge blow for the Jaguars given the commanding lead they held but thankfully for them, the siren went off just as the waiting period was about to expire, allowing the game to resume.

Despite the lengthy delay, Tanjong Pagar showed no signs of being worse for wear and continued to dominate proceedings; Hassan producing a fine double save in the 69th minute to push away a dangerous cross by Hafiz, before recovering in time to keep out Zerka's follow-up header.

The experienced goalkeeper was emerging as one of the few Warriors players that could walk off the pitch with his head held high, and he came up with another excellent stop seven minutes later when he pushed a Benahmed piledriver wide at full stretch, after the Frenchman had received the ball from Zerka.

12 minutes from time, it was Herrison's turn to be tested as he kept out a point-blank range effort from Mislav Karoglan, although the strike would have been chalked off anyway by the linesman's flag, before Azhar Ahmad made a brave block to keep out a ferocious 25-yard strike from Erwan two minutes later.

But apart from such occasions where they remotely resembled a side looking to challenge for top honours, the Warriors had well and truly been second best to the visitors.

And in a game where Warriors big-name Kazuyuki Toda had minimal impact in, Zerka made sure there was little doubt who emerged triumphant in Wednesday's battle of the marquee signings, robbing an inattentive Vidosevic on the edge of the box before racing through and sublimely lifting the ball over the onrushing Hassan to complete his hat-trick.

For the Warriors, the most successful club in the history of Singaporean football, plenty will need to be addressed if they are to fulfil the club hierarchy's bold pre-season challenging of doing the double this year.

Tanjong Pagar, on the other hand, have already scored more than half their goal tally from 2012, and have more than a quarter of the total points accrued from all 24 matches.

While there's still plenty to play for from now till November, the French revolution at the Queenstown Stadium under Patrick Vallee already looks in full swing after just two games.

Warriors FC: Hassan Sunny, Abdil Qaiyyim (Shukor Zailan 82'), Daniel Bennett, Marin Vidosevic, Zakir Samsudin (Syaiful Iskandar 35'), Shi Jiayi (Mislav Karoglan 70'), Kazuyuki Toda, Shimpei Sakurada, Tatsuro Inui, Erwan Gunawan, Sufian Anuar.

Tanjong Pagar United: Aurelien Herrison, Ahmad Latiff, Walid Lounis, Anthony Aymard, Azhar Ahmad, Hafiz Nor (K. Vikraman 86'), Sazali Salleh (Rizawan Abdullah 90'), Kamel Ramdani, Asraf Rashid (Zahid Ahmad 68'), Ismael Benahmed, Monsef Zerka.

Attendance: 1,102

Image courtesy of S.League

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