Balestier lead Home after first leg of Cup quarter-final
Kraljevic's men put aside league form and force a win with 10 men
QUARTER-FINALS, FIRST LEG
BALESTIER KHALSA 2
(Niko Tokic 36, Ahmad Syahir 86)
HOME UNITED 1
(Khairul Nizam 59)
Even the club's own fans will admit that the wheels have fallen off Balestier Khalsa's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign.
The Tigers are second-from-bottom in the league after a series of disappointing defeats.
Hence, one could have forgiven Marko Kraljevic's side for viewing the first leg of their RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final clash against Home United at the Toa Payoh Stadium last night as a welcome distraction.
And it looked as if a change of scenery was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Tigers after they overcame the Protectors 2-1 in the first leg.
And coach Kraljevic felt his side should have taken a more commanding lead into the second leg.
"Of course, you are happy whenever you win but, after scoring the first goal, I thought we could have scored some more," said the German-born Croat.
"I say that because today was not the best performance by Home, they have many injuries and we created some good chances, but we didn't take them."
The visitors were on the front foot for the first 35 minutes, probing the Balestier defence but unable to find a breakthrough.
They paid the price when Croatian striker Niko Tokic (above, in yellow) rose highest to head home Fadhil Noh's delivery from a corner-kick in the 36th minute.
The goal shifted the momentum in the Tigers' favour and they could have doubled the lead five minutes later when Fadhil lofted in another delivery that found Sheikh Abdul Hadi at the back post, but the latter's header was saved well by goalkeeper Zulfairuz Rudy.
MOMENT OF BRILLIANCE
Protectors' coach Philippe Aw brought on Khairul Nizam for Danish forward Ken Ilso after the interval to inject more pace and directness, and it worked a treat.
The 25-year-old produced a moment of individual brilliance when the Singapore international bobbed and weaved his way past a sea of defenders in the penalty box before rifling his shot past a hapless Zaiful Nizam just minutes after coming on.
Both outfits were evenly matched from that point on, but were let down by poor finishing.
Balestier did not make it any easier for themselves when they were reduced to 10 men in the 78th minute after Nurullah Hussein was shown his marching orders by referee W. Ravisanthiran for a second yellow-card offence.
But the Tigers did not let the numerical disparity knock them off their stride and took the lead four minutes from time when substitute Ahmad Syahir's effort from just outside the penalty box went in off the post.
Aw rued his side's missed chances, but gave credit where it was due.
"We largely controlled the game but we knew coming into Toa Payoh, it was not going to be easy. The pitch made it hard for us to play the football we wanted to and, when you give Balestier chances, especially from set-pieces, you know they will punish you," he said.
"What's important is we don't give up, we still have another 90 minutes left to get a positive result and we have make sure we bounce back."
- TNP Man of the Match: Khairul Nizam (Home United)
- Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Hanafi Salleh, Syafiq Zainal (Smajovic Sadin 55), Emir Lotinac, Tan Danial Farhan (Gary Loo 72), Jamil Ali, Fadhil Noh (Ahmad Syahir 70), Niko Tokic
- Home United: Zulfairuz Rudy, Shahrin Saberin (Amir Zalani 89), Abdil Qaiyyim, Zulfahmi Arifin, Redzwan Atan, Ambroise Begue, Haziq Azman, Syahiran Miswan, Shamil Sharif (Mahatir Azeman 70) , Azhar Sairudin, Ken Ilso (Khairul Nizam 46).