Tigers eye White Swans' scalp
Buoyed by impressive win over DPMM, unfancied Balestier eye the scalp of league leaders
|BALESTIER KHALSA||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
They pulled off a shock result in their last match, and now, Balestier Khalsa are eyeing another scalp.
The Tigers, who finished last season one place off the bottom, will face league leaders Albirex Niigata in their Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League match at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow night.
They beat last season's third-placed side Brunei DPMM 2-1 at the same venue less than two weeks ago, rallying from a goal down to post a memorable upset.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic has seen an unmistakable zip from his charges in training.
"This is natural," said the German-born Croat.
"When we were losing at the start of the season, everyone was down.
"But, when you start winning, everybody is happy, smiling in training, and looking forward to the next game.
"We showed a lot of character to come back against DPMM, and that win has given us the belief we can get a result in this game against Albirex."
Midfielder Raihan Rahman, who scored the winning goal against DPMM with a fine 25-metre free-kick that curled into the top corner, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"The DPMM result really boosted our confidence," said the 26-year-old.
"Everyone has been very motivated in training, and the mood is good.
"Against Albirex, we will try our best to pick up from where we left off and, hopefully, the positive results will continue.
Wins in their last two games have taken Balestier up to sixth in the nine-team league, after the team lost their first three matches of the season.
But, in Albirex, they will face arguably their toughest test of 2017 yet.
The White Swans have won four of their five matches, scoring 13 goals and conceding just three along the way.
Everyone has been very motivated in training, and the mood is good. Against Albirex, we will try our best to pick up from where we left off and, hopefully, the positive results will continue.Raihan Rahman
Piercing Albirex's water-tight defence appears a tough ask for a Balestier side who have scored only four goals - the joint-worst record in the league.
Their struggles in front of goal are down to the fact they do not have an out-an-out striker.
In recent seasons, Kraljevic had been able to depend on foreign targetmen like Goran Ljubojevic (20 goals in 27 games, 2014) and Miroslav Kristic (16 goals in 29 games, 2015), but his trio of Myanmarese imports this term are all midfielders by trade.
Only one, Aung Kyaw Naing, has found the net.
But, Raihan, who is the Tigers' leading scorer with two strikes - his other goal came from the penalty spot - warned their rival teams not to underestimate them.
He said: "One thing about Balestier is that we are a very hardworking team.
"Coach has been emphasising to us we have to put the ball in the net and we've been working hard in training, so hopefully, we can do it against Albirex."
Kraljevic is confident his team can rise to the occasion.
"I think we can do it," he said.
"Our foreign players are getting better and better, and we always work hard.
"After our last two wins, now everybody is confident, and our guys are no longer afraid to receive the ball and move it around.
"Plus, we conceded only once in our last two games, and that was from the penalty spot.
"So yes, we are playing one of the best teams in the league, but we are not scared."
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