Gritty Tigers Steal Point Off Warriors
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Balestier Khalsa put up a gutsy display to deny Warriors FC the chance to leapfrog Home United into third spot in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League, holding the visitors to a 2-2 draw at Toa Payoh Stadium on Thursday night.
The result leaves the nine-time league champions in fourth as they trail the Protectors by one point, albeit having played three games more.
On a rain-sodden pitch, it took a while for the teams to get going but it was Warriors who looked the dangerous of the two.
Shahril Ishak had a shot blocked in the fourth minute before Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu’s fierce drive inside the box was well-saved by Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam two minutes later.
The deadlock was however broken against the run of play on eight minutes as Hazzuwan was left unmarked at the far post and he proceeded to fire past Hyrulnizam.
Razif Onn’s side could have levelled matters almost immediately after the opener but Hafiz Nor saw his toepoke off Emmeric Ong's cross parried away to safety by Zaiful.
Warriors were then dealt a blow when goalkeeper Hyrulnizam had to be stretchered off as he was replaced by Zainol Gulam after just 14 minutes.
Clear chances were at premium for the remainder of the first half but Warriors would pull level two minutes before the break.
After skipper Shahril was tugged from behind in the box by Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Ciolacu stepped up to convert the ensuing spotkick and make it 1-1.
In a bid to inject more firepower upfront, the Tigers’ head coach Marko Kraljevic made a change at half time, replacing Zulkhair Mustaffa with Jonathan Tan.
But it was the visitors who took the lead for the first time in the match in the 56th minute when Hafiz Nor slotted home the loose ball after Zaiful could only push Ciolacu’s shot into his path.
Their joys were however short-lived as Balestier equalised merely two minutes later as Zainol spilled Raihan Rahman’s freekick, leaving Fadli with the simplest of tasks to turn home the rebound.
Kyaw Naing and Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit came close to restoring the lead for the home side in the space of 12 minutes but they were unable to trouble Zainol.
The two teams took turn to pepper shots on goal and Tan could have stolen a win for Balestier at the death. But the 22-year-old watched on as his shot on the turn beat Zainol and not the post as the spoils were shared.
Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “I was pleased with the character of my players. They went down 2-1 but showed great spirit to comeback for a point.
“Warriors had more possession of the ball but I was impressed by how our boys went forward and I was thinking to myself that we really should have put away the numerous chances we had created.”
Warriors FC Head Coach Razif Onn: “It was two points dropped today and I thought we were lucky. We really should have gotten the three points to catch up with teams like Home and Tampines.
“The freekick (for Fadli’s goal) was not properly managed. We had a few chances to score but instead passed the ball around ourselves too much.
“We were compact in our previous games but I’m not sure if it’s complacency but the team did not display that today and it’s something we will work on in training.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Raihan Rahman, Ahmad Syahir, Aung Kyaw Naing, Huzaifah Aziz, Kyaw Zayar Win, Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit, Hazzuwan Halim (Fariz Faizal 90’), Zulkhair Mustaffa (Jonathan Tan 46’)
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma'at (GK) (Zainol Gulam 14’), Emmeric Ong, Baihakki Khaizan, Kento Fukuda, Ang Zhi Wei, Firdaus Kasman, Syaqir Sulaiman (Shaiful Esah 85’), Hafiz Nor, Shahril Ishak (C), Jordan Webb (Fazli Jaffar 79’), Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu