Home United 0
Balestier Khalsa 1 Zulkiffli Hassim 24’
After being held to a goal-less draw in their season opener against Balestier Khalsa, last season’s runners-up Home United failed to score against the same opponents again as they lost by a single goal at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
Both sides got off to a fairly even and cagey start, with no real opportunities for either team in the first ten minutes.
Zulkiffli Hassim made Lionel Lewis work in the Home goal on thirteen minutes with a fierce left-footed drive after cutting in from the right, which the goalkeeper was forced to tip over.
The right winger was looking lively and he opened the scoring in the 24th minute with a similar effort, asthe shot bounced off the far post and into the goal to give the home side a well-deserved lead.
Skipper Paul Cunningham nearly doubled their lead ten minutes later, as his close-range header from a corner crashed off the post, with Lionel watching on helplessly.
The best Home could muster in reply was a shot which rose well over the bar from Mendy, after he had surged into the box from the left, as Balestier ended the first half in the driving seat.
Cunningham came close to scoring again just a minute after the restart, rising up well to power a header at goal from a corner only to see it hacked off the line by Nor Azli Yusoff. From the resulting corner, Zulkiffli’s snapshot was well blocked by Lionel.
The away side started to come back into the game a little more and Zakariah Nerani had to react well to tip over a 25-yard freekick from Qiu Li.
The same player then lashed a snapshot over after shimmying past two men outside the box.
But despite the best efforts of the Singapore international, who curled another freekick narrowly over the bar, Balestier held on for a solid win and condemned Home to their third defeat of the season.
Double act in defence
It was an utterly lacklustre and woeful defence from Home United, who did not look like they would score throughout the entire game.
Shorn of the powerful Franklin Anzite, who is away on international duty with the Central African Republic in the World Cup Qualifiers, they lacked a dominant figure in the middle of defence and midfield. Firdaus Idros did not look comfortable at all being deployed in central midfield, while Qiu Li struggled on the left and had an off-day.
The sore lack of creativity from the Protectors meant that they struggled to break down a resolute Balestier side, for whom the pairing of Paul Cunningham and Goran Subara were immense in central defence once again.
Returning from a lengthy injury, Subara showed no signs of rustiness and combined superbly with skipper Cunningham to completely shut out Home’s lanky striker Frederic Mendy. The Frenchman did not have a sniff at goal all night, with fellow forward Shotaro Ihata also closed down well.
Shafuan Sutohmoh, making his debut for Balestier, also screened the defence well with a disciplined performance in a defensive midfield role, while Zulkiffli tormented the Home backline all game and took his winning goal well.
It was a solid win for the Tigers, who were well worth the three points in the end with a well-organized display.
Balestier captain Paul Cunningham acknowledged the importance of Subara’s return, saying that the Australian defender “didn’t look like he hadn’t trained for a month”. He also gave credit to Shafuan for protecting the back four and taking the pressure off the defence.
The New Zealander also had good things to say about Mendy, despite getting the better of the striker once again.
“He is still a good player, and I will still put him as the top striker in the league, (together) with Mislav Karoglan.”
Home assistant coach Baek Jong Seok admitted that the performance was poor and that they lost to the better side.
“We didn’t start well. The formation was not working ; we started with a back three but we changed it (midway through the first half) because we needed more attacking (options).
“Usually, one or two guys cannot play well, but today I think for four or five of them, their movement, fitness and concentration on the ball was not quite good enough, especially in the first half.
“They (Balestier) were better in terms of fighting spirit and team spirit; they hit the post and they dominated.”
He went on to give credit to the Balestier defence, before saying that his side would just have to bounce back in the subsequent match.
“I think their defensive line is well organized. Their centreback (Cunningham) is one of the best defenders in the league, and their fullbacks are not beaten easily. They are very good at one-on-one situations and aerial balls, and their movement is good.
“In terms of performance, (tonight’s display) is one of the worst. It is not very shocking; just disappointing. I didn’t expect it, and we have to accept (the loss) and prepare for the next game.”
With this win, Balestier move level on 24 points with Home, although they are still below in fourth place due to goal difference.
Balestier: Zakariah Nerani, Jaslee Hatta (Yusiskandar Yusop 87’), Paul Cunningham (C), Goran Subara, Syed Thaha, Zulkiffli Hassim, Park Kang Jin (Muhaymin Salim 77’), Shafuan Sutohmoh, Tengku Mushadad, Hamqamaal Shah (Ruhaizad Ismail 78’), Kim Minho. Unused subs: Joey Sim, Andrew Tan, Poh Yi Feng, Patrick Paran.
Home: Lionel Lewis (C), Nor Azli Yusoff, Kenji Arai, Rosman Sulaiman, Jeremy Chiang (Masrezwan Masturi 45’ (Rhysh Roshan Rai 77’)), Firdaus Idros (Indra Sahdan 58’), John Wilkinson, Sofiyan Abdul Hamid, Qiu Li, Frederic Mendy, Shotaro Ihata. Unused subs: Nazri Sabri, Kairuldin Ishak, Shi Jia Yi.
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