|Photo: Ryan He|
Zulkiffli Hassim 75'
In a game where an astonishing eleven yellow cards were issued, Balestier Khalsa edged out Hougang United 1-0 in a scrappy encounter. Zulkiffli Hassim’s superb strike gave the Tigers all three points, thereby ending the Cheetahs’ unbeaten start to the season, while maintaining their own undefeated streak.
The first of many bookings came in the 6th minute, when Hougang’s Jordan Webb was carded for a dive in the penalty area. Things then nearly came to a boil four minutes later, as the Canadian winger appeared to retaliate after being brought down with a clumsy challenge. Tempers frayed as players from both sides confronted each other, but thankfully, the situation did not get out of control in the end.
Park then tried his luck from distance with a half-volley that flew comfortably into Fadhil Salim’s hands, the goalkeeper making his debut for Hougang since re-signing for them two weeks ago. Balestier were given a scare in the 18th minute when Joey Sim’s weak clearance from a back-pass fell to Mamadou Diallo 35 metres out, but the Guinean’s low shot went wide, as the goalkeeper scrambled back to his line.
Korean striker Kim Minho, who was making his debut, saw his shot from the right side of the box well pushed around the post by Fadhil on the half hour. Ridwan Jamil nodded the resulting corner wide when he should have done better.
Diallo met a corner with a glancing header that was cleared off the in the 38th minute, before Ante Barac then rocked the crossbar with a curling freekick on the stroke of half-time, as both sides went into the break on level terms.
The second half continued in the same manner as the first, with both sides struggling to create clear chances of any sort.
It took an error from Joey Sim to rouse the crowd on the hour mark, as he came off his line in an attempt to catch Webb’s cross. However, the ball sailed over him, and he was relieved to see Nurhilmi Jasni’s cross back into the box headed away from the lurking Diallo by skipper Paul Cunningham.
It took a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock in the 75th minute. Receiving a pass on the right flank, Zulkiffli advanced into the box, before turning left-back Lau Meng Meng inside out and cutting in to lash a left-footed strike into the top corner to beat Fadhil at his near post.
That was the last note-worthy action of the game, as Balestier dug in and defended their lead resolutely, despite Hougang bringing on an extra attacker in Basit Hamid for defender Faizal Amir and throwing big centreback Stanislav Vidakovic upfront in their bid to salvage something in the dying minutes.
|Photo: Ryan He|
The Cheetahs deviated from their usual 4-3-3 formation as they started with a 4-4-2, but it soon became clear that Webb and Fazli Jaffar were not having any sort of joy down the flanks. A switch to 4-2-3-1 midway through the first half, with Diallo behind Sobrie Mazelan, also failed to ignite their play.
Balestier had started with a 4-4-1-1, but with attacking midfielder Park dropping back when they defended, it was ostensibly a 4-5-1, which crowded out Barac and Azhar Sairudin and penned the playmaking duo deep inside their own half.
Starved of a supply line, Sobrie toiled fruitlessly on his own as Diallo drifted wide to try and receive any through balls. Fazli hardly saw much of the ball, while Webb tried to do things on his own too many times, all to no avail.
In Goran Subara and Cunningham, the Tigers have a formidable backline, which has conceded only once in four games so far. The duo repelled everything the Cheetahs threw at them, and this sturdy rearguard action set the stage for Zulkiffli’s lone goal to give them three points.
|Photo: Ryan He|
“We had to work hard, which we did. It was a good performance; we were patient, and it paid off. It was a great finish (from Zulkiffli)… I am really happy with the way we bounced back from the poor game on Sunday… the team work (hard) for each other.
“In the end, I think we deserved the points… We’ve just got to keep our feet on the ground, and prepare for the next game.”
Hougang’s Nenad Bacina accepted the results as “part of the sport”, saying:
“Tonight Balestier scored one, and it was enough (for them) to collect three points. It was an even game; I had predicted that such a match… would probably be decided by an individual, and this time it came from Balestier (referring to Zulkiffli).
He also called for more protection from referees for skilful players like Webb, while giving Balestier credit for their tactics despite the physical nature of the game. He also promised that his team would “definitely” come back stronger from this defeat.
With this win, Balestier now sit second, taking Hougang’s place. The Cheetahs entertain Home next Thursday, 15th March at Jalan Besar in that week’s ‘live’ match, while Balestier will take on Woodlands on Sunday, 18th March, after a ten-day break.
Hougang: Fadhil Salim, Faizal Amir (Basit Hamid 81’), Syaqir Sulaiman, Stanislav Vidakovic, Lau Meng Meng (c), Jordan Webb, Azhar Sairudin, Ante Barac, Fazli Jaffar (Nurhilmi Jasni 57’), Sobrie Mazelan (Ignatius Ang 57’), Mamadou Diallo. Unused subs: Ridzuan Hasan, Hasree Zais, Khayrulhayat Jumat, Ridhwan Osman.
Balestier: Joey Sim, Jaslee Hatta, Paul Cunningham (c), Goran Subara, Syed Thaha, Zulkiffli Hassim (Ruhaizad Ismail 76’), Ridwan Jamil, Tengku Mushadad, Hamqaamal Shah (Poh Yi Feng 83’), Park Kang Jin, Kim Minho (Patrick Paran 91’). Unused subs: Zakariah Nerani, Yusiskandar Yusop, Andrew Tan, Muhaymin Salim.