News Singapore Premier League • June 15, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Balestier count on family spirit as Hougang seek first win


Vedran Mesec in action for Balestier Khalsa FC.

SINGAPORE, 15 JUNE 2018 – Balestier Khalsa FC will continue their pursuit of second spot in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) on Sunday, 17 June when they take on troubled Hougang United FC at the Toa Payoh Stadium. Kick-off is at 5.30pm.

BACKGROUND A poor start to the season for Hougang, who have yet to record a win after 10 games, meant that the SPL saw its first coaching casualty as Philippe Aw was dismissed last Sunday.

With just three draws and seven defeats, the Cheetahs are rooted to the bottom of the table and are six points behind second-bottom Warriors FC. They have also scored the least goals in the league – seven times – and their goal difference of minus 14 is the joint-worst alongside Geylang International FC.

The statistics suggest that the team is in disarray, but midfielder Fabian Kwok is backing them to find their feet soon.

“The players are all very hungry for our first win… we are as eager as before to try and grab all three points against Balestier Khalsa this Sunday,” he said.

“We have to be confident to play to our abilities and take the game to Balestier. Our players are a talented bunch with lots of potential. Once unlocked, I believe more results will come our way.”

On Aw’s dismissal, the vice-captain empathised with his former coach, saying it is “tough to be the one taking the hit” with the recent run of results.

“The turnover of coaching appointments are quick, so it goes to show us players as well to cherish every moment we have in football,” he added.

Assistant Coach Clement Teo will be taking over on a temporary basis until Hougang finds a suitable replacement for Aw. His first task at hand will not be an easy one, however.

The Tigers have been quietly impressive so far and are currently third in the league standings. With five wins, they have already equalled the number of victories they had last year, when they finished seventh.

They have also not gone more than two matches without a win this year and a huge part of that improvement is down to having a “family spirit” within the team, according to centre-back Sheikh Abdul Hadi.

“If we continue to work hard as a team, consistently get good results and with a bit of luck, I don’t see why we can’t challenge the second spot,” the 26-year-old said.

But first, Hadi wants the team to focus on the match on Sunday, especially given the changes that have taken in Hougang.

“I think (Hougang) will face us with new spirit, new fire to impress their new coach,” he said. “It is always a challenge to play against a team which is finding their first win and I’m sure they will be fighting for it this weekend.

“But at the end of the day, we have to approach the game like any of the other games in the season – our focus should always be on ourselves, to stick to our game plan, work hard and get the three points.”

Balestier will continue to miss midfielder Raihan Rahman, who is out for the rest of the season, as well as defenders Shaqi Sulaiman and Sharin Majid.

Hougang will welcome back Kwok from suspension and is likely to have a full squad available.

Balestier: WLLWL
Hougang: LLLLL

22/04/18: Hougang 1-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
02/11/17: Hougang 0-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
29/07/17: Balestier 0-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
27/04/17: Hougang 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
01/10/16: Hougang 1-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League

Vedran Mesec – Balestier
The attacking midfielder is slowly getting into his groove and against the Young Lions, Mesec helped the team to settle down in what was a scrappy game. He also created the team’s second goal by out-jumping three defenders to nod on a free-kick for an unmarked Akbar Shah to score after he was pushed upfront when Keegan Linderboom was substituted off.

Iqbal Hussain – Hougang
Iqbal is Hougang’s top scorer, albeit with just three goals, but the attacker is fully capable of causing trouble for any defence on his day. While this season hasn’t been the best for his team, he has matched his goal tally from 2017 and is just one goal away from matching his best-ever tally of four goals in a season.

Balestier defender Hadi:
“Compared to last season, I think we started this season stronger and that has contributed to us to continue to be eager and hungry for more. The coach (Marko Kraljevic) has always believed in us and always never satisfied even when we win. He always thinks there’s room for improvement. He’s always pushed us to never stay in our comfort zone and it has rubbed into the players and we always push and demand more from each other, not forgetting to always look after and take care of each other.

“Our captain Zaiful (Nizam) has also always implemented the ‘family spirit’ and always reminds us that we are not just a team, but more of a family. So we always go in the game with the family spirit, and always wanting to improve from our previous game.”

Hougang midfielder Kwok: “Each coach has their unique characteristics. Everyone of them have their own pros and cons. Looking on the bright side, Clement has been with us since the start of the year so he knows us. We have to keep an open mind and work together towards a common goal, which is to win games for Hougang United.”

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