Balestier find a way to peg back S.League leaders Albirex
Supersub Jamil steals a point off league leaders
(Jamil Ali 55)
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Nurullah Hussein 31-og)
In the face of an Albirex Niigata side who menaced the two teams they had met in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, struggling Balestier Khalsa were content to sit back and wait in their encounter last night.
The Japanese side had scored eight goals in their two previous league games and Tigers' coach Marko Kraljevic lined up his side to stifle, "parking the bus", as it were, and his ploy worked, with substitute Jamil Ali salvaging a point within seconds of stepping onto the pitch in a 1-1 draw at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
"If we opened up the game, we would have got punished by Albirex. I've seen them play twice this season and whenever their opponents opened the game, it became easy for Albirex," said a pleased Kraljevic.
"This was an excellent point for us. I said (to the players in the first half) keep it like this, then we can throw on players like Jamil Ali and Syafiq Zainal who can score goals.
"And we did."
While Albirex dominated possession in the first half, they did not carve open the Balestier side like they did to the opposition in their two previous wins, a 3-2 victory over champions DPMM FC and a 5-0 thumping of the Garena Young Lions.
Indeed, it took a 31st-minute own goal for Albirex to open the scoring, the unfortunate Nurullah Hussein heading past Zaiful Nizam in the Balestier goal after a dangerous Masaya Jitozono free-kick launched into the box.
TIGERS BITE BACK
The Tigers came out in the second half with a bit more bite and were rewarded within 10 minutes of the restart.
Jamil was thrown on to add some guile to the Balestier attack and the 31-year-old scored with his very first touch, flicking in a 55th-minute Fazli Ayob cross.
"Jamil is an amazing player, he can create something from nothing. He can change the game," said Kraljevic, whose charges could have snatched a winner through another substitute, Syafiq.
While Balestier did make the Japanese side uncomfortable in the second half after the introduction of Jamil and Syafiq, they ultimately had Zaiful to thank for the point.
The goalkeeper came up with two top drawer saves in the dying minutes as the Tigers became the first team to take any points off Albirex in 2016.
The first saw him tip over a close-range diving header off Atsushi Shirota and just a minute later, he saved brilliantly when a Kazuki Mine header looked destined for the top corner.
"Balestier are a tough team, physically strong, and we knew that this game would be difficult, but we came here to win three points and we are very disappointed with the result," said Albirex coach Naoki Naruo.
"We had a few big chances to score and we need to improve, we must score from chances like those.
"We need to improve, but we will continue playing this style of football."
Albirex stay atop the standings on seven points despite the draw, with Balestier second from bottom, with a solitary point.
Kraljevic's charges have another tough fixture on Thursday against a high-flying Geylang side, with Albirex taking on the same opponents a week later.
- BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Hanafi Salleh, Gary Loo (Daniel Tan 69), Hazzuwan Halim (Syafiq Zainal 69), Shah Hirul, Fazli Ayob, Fadhil Noh (Jamil Ali 54), Miroslav Kristic
- ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Rui Kumada, Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine, Mikiya Yamada, Masaya Jitozono, Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Daichi Ishiyama (Tomoki Menda 79), Atsushi Kawata, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Tatsuro Inui 60)
- TNP Man of the Match: Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)