S-League: Rams out of the woods

Resolute rams: Woodlands' Chang Jo Yoon (in green, tussling with Albirex's Takeshi Nagasawa) starring in last week's 1-0 win over Albirex.

SINGAPORE - Looking at the Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League table now, it's hard to imagine that Woodlands Wellington have been propping up the league's rear for the last three seasons.

With six wins in their last seven matches in all competitions, including a penalty shoot-out victory over Geylang in the League Cup, the Rams are sitting pretty in fifth after 17 games.

Aside from claiming impressive scalps such as Home United and Brunei DPMM, Woodlands have also done the double over Albirex Niigata.

It is a far cry from the team that have looked so miserable in recent times, and coach Salim Moin believes it is down to having a squad of players to call his own.

"It's the quality of the players that I've signed," said the former Singapore international.

"They are tactically sound, so what I've emphasised on is fitness while giving them more tactical knowledge.

"You can see now that they produce good football and they are well-organised. That's one wonderful part about the players I've brought in."

One crucial ingredient that the present Woodlands side have is mental strength, which Salim believes is best illustrated by their match against Brunei DPMM on July  5, when they came back from 0-2 down to win 5-2.

Former Gombak United midfielder Theerawekin Seehawong, who was signed last month as a replacement for Dutch playmaker Khalid Hamdaoui, impressed in that game as he grabbed a brace on his club debut.

Salim said: "Last year, some seasoned S-League players weren't able to carry out their responsibilities. Also, their mental strength was lacking, especially after conceding a goal.

"This current group has the fighting spirit, which the players showed against DPMM when we were two goals down. They worked hard, believed in themselves and scored five goals.

"Theerawekin blends into the team well and the wonderful thing is that he controls the attacking rhythm. He is probably the right replacement (for Hamdaoui)."

With the league set to split into two mini-divisions after 22 games, for a final half-round of matches, Woodlands look on course for a top-six finish which will keep them on track to meet their coach's bold pre-season target of finishing among the top three.

However, big tests await the Rams, as they have three encounters with top-half opposition - Tanjong Pagar United, Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa - in their remaining five league fixtures.

Salim believes that the next three games, against the Courts Young Lions (tonight), Tanjong Pagar (Aug 4) and Geylang International (Sept 5), will decide his team's destiny.

"We will try to take it one game at a time," said the Woodlands coach.

"If we can get three good games, I'll know where my team's standing will be and from there, we will fight for the top  three."