Wasps slump to defeat at Balestier hurdle
Photography courtesy of DPMM FC
So close, yet so far.
The feeling is one that every member of Bruneian club DPMM FC will know for a long time, after they slumped to their third defeat at home in the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League on Friday evening, arguably at a time when victory mattered most.
Balestier Khalsa’s stunning 2-0 victory at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium effectively forced their opponents’ surrender of the S.League crown to incumbents Tampines Rovers, who on their part earned a 1-0 win over Malaysia’s Harimau Muda back in Singapore.
Trailing the Stags by a single point going into the evening, nothing less than a win would have sufficed, but everything that could have gone wrong for the Bruneians did go wrong.
It was DPMM who started the brightest, applying some heavy pressure to the five-man Tigers backline helmed by skipper Paul Cunningham.
Despite spending large periods of time in the Balestier half, however, the Wasps had to resort to long potshots from outside of the box, hoping the rain-drenched pitch would lend them a helping hand.
But Zakariah Nerani, manning the sticks for Balestier, stood strong.
Azwan Salleh registered DPMM’s first shot on target 17 minutes into the game, when his vicious effort went straight down the goalkeeper’s throat.
Next up was Ivan Jerkovic on the half-hour mark, whose well-placed effort forced Zakariah into a save low down to his left.
When Balestier did venture out of their own half on the counter, it was Wardun Yussof who kept the hosts in the game with two vital saves, both coming from Ruhaizad Ismail in the opening stages of the second half.
Zdravko Dragicevic appeared a lonely man in white up front for majority of the game, but the Montenegrin did produce a few moments of magic, which turned some heads on occasion.
For all DPMM’s best efforts, they simply had no penetration and were left with no answer as to how to breach the Balestier defence, after the Tigers had quite apparently parked the figurative bus.
Having absorbed all of the Bruneian pressure and dealt with everything thrown at them, the Tigers, sensing the fatigue growing within their opponents, went on the offensive.
Ten minutes before the final whistle, they were duly rewarded for a fine counterattacking play.
DPMM skipper Rosmin Kamis, who has been one of his team’s most consistent players, clumsily lost possession in the middle of the pitch, and he was made to regret that lapse in concentration as the ball was sprayed wide left to Balestier substitute Andrew Tan.
Tan dinked a delightful ball across the face of goal, with Zulkiffli Hassim, who had replaced Ruhaizad, heading home from three yards out.
With the Bruneians pushing further and further up the pitch in search of the two goals they needed to turn things around, it was only a matter of time before the Tigers pounced once more.
Dragicevic collected the ball after a DPMM corner was foiled four minutes from time, and with all the yellow shirts in Balestier’s half, the striker set Park Kang Jin through in on goal, the Korean duly finishing the move with a delicate chip over Wardun to kill the game off.
Wingback Sairol Sahari then earned his marching orders for two yellow cards in the aftermath for his excessive protests, with fans rushing for the exits as it all boiled over.
It was a bitter blow for the Wasps, who would have finished second even if they had won the game after a Fahrudin Mustafic penalty had sealed the deal for Tampines.
For Balestier, however, it was a fine smash-and-grab victory that came with a thirteenth clean sheet in their 24-game S.League season.
Tigers head coach Darren Stewart could not have been happier with the result, but was quick to give his charges the credit they fully deserved.
“Credit to the lads, they were tremendous,” exclaimed the Australian.
“Everything we worked on in training worked out for us tonight. I couldn’t single anyone out, every player was superb.
“Our goal was to not concede early, and the substitutions worked, but that was a bit lucky, so I’m not seeking any credit for that.
“The boys were up for everything, and I thought the crowd tonight was awesome. In the end, we beat a quality team with an excellent coach.”
For Vjeran Simunic, however, it was back to the drawing board after his charges finished second in the S.League, which far exceeded their initial expectations.
“When we found out the result for Tampines, we were down at half-time,” bemoaned the Croat.
He knew what he was coming up against before the game, and decided to go for broke with that elusive first S.League title at stake.
“Balestier have the best organisation in defence, so we had to take a risk to win the game, and they punished us for it,” he noted.
“My players did their best, but we were under pressure to do more. We knew the result of the Tampines game and knew our dream (of winning the title) was gone.”