By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
Despite both sides creating several chances throughout the game, Home and Woodlands were forced to share the spoils in a result that benefitted neither side in the run-up to the final round of the campaign.
The Protectors headed into the fixture in buoyant mood, not just because they had seen off Tanjong Pagar United in their previous game, but also due to the recent confirmation of coach Lee Lim-Saeng's decision to stay with the club for the next season.
Although Home will finish this campaign without any silverware to show for their efforts, handing defeat to the Rams would have gone a long way in ensuring they were the second-best local team behind current leaders Tampines Rovers, placing them in prime position to secure qualification to the AFC Cup 2013 should the Stags win the title.
The proposition that stood before them at the Jalan Besar Stadium seemed easy enough as Salim Moin's side came into the game rooted to the bottom of the table with only two wins to show for their efforts so far, despite some spirited performances during the campaign.
Coming close to pulling off an upset against DPMM FC in their previous game was no doubt a confidence booster and Woodlands fancied their chances of doing the same against a Protectors squad missing Lionel Lewis, Shi Jiayi, Qiu Li and Franklin Anzite.
In spite of those absences, Home were still privileged enough to be able to call upon the experienced Indra Sahdan and the intelligence of Song Ui-Young. It was anticipation displayed by the latter that resulted in Home's first chance in only the second minute of the game.
Latching on to the ball after some poor control from Danny Chew, Song played a defence-splitting pass that found Frederic Mendy after a fake from Shotaro Ihata. Though Song's French team-mate managed to get a shot away, he was ruled offside in what turned out to be an early scare for the Rams.
A minute later, it was Lee's team that went into a state of panic after left-back Jeremy Chiang played a horrendous back-pass to goalkeeper Nazri Sabri, forcing the custodian to push away the ball with his hand. The referee halted play for a free kick within the penalty area, only for Goh Swee Swee to balloon his side's opening chance over the bar.
The combination of Song's vision and Indra's positioning exposed the frailties of the opposition defence, especially down the left where Chew was often found lacking when faced with the pace and movement of the Protectors attack. By choosing to stand too close to central defender K Sathiaraj, Chew often gifted Indra and Mendy plenty of space down the flank.
The error was capitalized on by Song in the 9th minute, when he floated in a beautiful cross-field ball to Indra. With Chew on the back-foot, the 33-year old attacker centred the ball for Mendy, and the Home striker would have tested Ahmadulhaq Che Omar if it was not for Daniel Hammond's frantic headed clearance.
While Indra and Song stole most of the attacking limelight for the Protectors, Moon Soon-ho was Woodland's star performer upfront. The Korean ran tirelessly, attempting to find space within the crowded Home defence, and he came close to being rewarded for his endeavours in the 17th minute when he shrugged off the attentions of three Protectors to fire a shot at goal. Only the reflexes of Sabri prevented Moin's team from celebrating an opening strike.
Watch: Highlights: Woodlands 0-0 Home United... More Videos
Moon would have rued his miss had Home put away the opportunity they created in 25th minute. In a move once again involving Indra, the veteran spotted the surging run of Masrezwan Masturi from the back and played a quick one-two with his compatriot. The movement pushed the latter into a one-on-one situation with Ahmadulhaq on the right of the penalty area, but the 31-year old saw his shot go wide of the far post.
Woodlands were content to allow Home plenty of possession, as they chose to sit back and soak up the pressure, attacking mostly on the counter.
On the stroke of half-time, a quick turn by Farizal Basri took him past Chiang on the right, drawing the Home defence toward the flank. Capitalizing on the shift, he sent a far-post ball for the waiting Oswind Suriya after the 23-year old had ghosted past the Protectors rear-guard. However, instead of attempting a shot, Oswind chose to nod it downwards for Hammond, but the Rams skipper failed to anticipate his team-mate's decision and the chance went begging.
Having held an opponent positioned eight places above them in the table to a goalless first half, Woodlands emerged for the second period with renewed purpose. Withstanding a barrage of Home attacks, the Rams put on a gritty display in defence. Skipper Hammond led by example, as the Englishman often outmuscled Mendy to head clear numerous deliveries from the striker's team-mates.
Not wanting to let their defence's efforts go to waste, the Woodlands attack propelled the ball toward Nazri's goal whenever they were in possession. One of their best opportunities came from a rare burst through the centre from Oswind in the 70th minute.
With the midfielder running at pace toward them, the Protectors defence chose to back off in an attempt to form a wall in front of their goalmouth. The Rams player did brilliantly to turn the tables by firing an early shot that forced Nazri into a reflex save, and the custodian's clean sheet only remained intact because Guntur Djafril miscued his volley attempt when the rebound fell to him.
Encouraged by the enthusiastic display put on by his players, Moin brought on youthful attacker Andy Ahmad for Chew in hopes of nicking a last-gasp victory. The 21-year old was full of mazy dribbles and speedy runs, but his inexperience was telling when he chose to shoot from an acute angle in the 86th minute after beating Chiang and Rhysh Roshan Rai on the left flank, when a cross to his waiting team-mates might have been more effective in breaking the deadlock.
Given the number of opportunities created in this game, the crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium would be forgiven for being disappointed when the referee blew the final whistle to indicate a 0-0 finish. Although a win would not have altered Woodlands' position in the table, a point for Home means they miss out on the chance to draw level with Albirex Niigata, who will hope to pull into third position by taking down Courts Young Lions on Saturday.
Woodlands Wellington: Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, Danny Chew (Fabien Lewis 71'), Duncan Elias, Daniel Hammond, Armanizam Dolah, Guntur Djafril (Andy Ahmad 82'), Goh Swee Swee, Moon Soon-ho, K. Sathiaraj, Farizal Basri (Shamsurin Rahman 69'), Oswind Suriya
Home United: Nazri Sabri, Jeremy Chiang, Kenji Arai, Shotaro Ihata, Frederic Mendy, Firdaus Idros, Rhysh Roshan Rai, Masrezwan Masturi, Indra Sahdan (Justin Khiang 74') Nor Azil Yusoff, Song Ui-young