News Singapore Premier League • June 1, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Balestier look to rally against confident Geylang


Balestier Khalsa FC players celebrate a goal earlier this season.

SINGAPORE, 31 MAY 2018Balestier Khalsa FC are looking to bounce back from last week’s 5-0 mauling by Albirex Niigata FC (S), but a victory will not come easy against a much improved Geylang International FC side on Saturday night. The Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) match will be played on Saturday, 2 June, at Toa Payoh Stadium. Kick-off will be at 8.30pm.

BACKGROUND The high of a late 2-1 comeback victory against Home United FC at the National Stadium was followed by the low of a 5-0 mauling by reigning champions and runaway leaders Albirex at Jurong East Stadium – perfectly exemplifying how quickly fortunes can change in football.

Balestier Khalsa were simply outplayed by a better footballing side last Sunday, with Vedran Mesec’s late penalty saved by Yosuke Nozawa to rub salt into their wounds.

That made it three defeats in their last four outings, with young midfielder Afiq Salman Tan emphasizing the importance of consistency in order to stay in the upper echelons of the table.

The Tigers are now third with 13 points from 10 matches, but risk dropping further down with three teams – Young Lions, Brunei DPMM FC and Home – having games in hand.

“Other teams have made their chances count while we did not,” Afiq said. “It’s essential for us to go on a good run of form now and start winning our next few matches. We’re confident of bouncing back from that heavy defeat against Albirex.”

They face a tricky home task against Geylang, who have improved vastly since losing their previous clash 1-0 back in April.

That game was the second of a five-match losing streak, but things have changed starkly since – a three-match unbeaten run ended in a last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Tampines Rovers FC in last Sunday’s Eastern Derby.

Forward Fairoz Hasan, whose late equaliser against the Stags proved to be in vain, believes his seventh-placed side is now reaping the dividends of Coach Hirotaka Usui’s focus on fitness.

“We never lost hope despite many defeats in the first round and fitness played an important part for us too,” said Fairoz, who has two goals and two assists. “We went through three months of high-intensity training under Coach Usui during pre-season and we’re still going through it now.

“I have to say fitness and teamwork are the secrets to our improvement in performance. I believe if we maintain our fitness levels and the understanding of each other’s play, we can finish in the top four.”

Apart from long-term injury victim Raihan Rahman, Balestier will also miss young defenders Shaqi Sulaiman and Sharin Majid due to injuries.

The good news for Coach Marko Kraljevic is that Nurullah Hussein is back from suspension to bolster his defensive options.

As for Geylang, Captain Anders Aplin continues to be absent as he recovers from groin surgery, while defender Danish Irfan faces a race against time to be fit due to a back injury.

Balestier: WLLWL
Geylang: LDWWL

14/04/18: Geylang 0-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
09/09/17: Geylang 2-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
08/07/17: Balestier 0-2 Geylang – League Cup
26/05/17: Balestier 0-1 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
04/03/17: Geylang 2-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League

Keegan Linderboom – Balestier
Exploding into life in the SPL with four goals in the opening six games, Linderboom has found the going tough after an injury lay-off with no goals in his last three outings. Nonetheless, the 28-year-old New Zealander remains a big threat up front with his 1.88m physique and he will be hoping to break his duck against a Geylang side that has kept just one clean sheet in 10 matches.

Jufri Taha – Geylang
Making the switch from Tampines in the off-season, Jufri has been the central figure of Usui’s defensive plans – starting in all 10 matches and is one of the few players who has not missed a single minute this season. The 33-year-old will need to be at his best to shackle the towering duo of Linderboom and Mesec as the Eagles target a second shutout.

Balestier midfielder Afiq:
“It’s been a good season for me personally and I’m shocked by my own progress because I didn’t expect to get so much game time (starting in nine out of 10 games). Coach Marko has helped me and the other young players a lot by guiding us and giving us lots of chances to show what we are capable of. One area that I need to improve on is my strength; I need to be stronger and more aggressive to fend off defenders during the game.”

Geylang forward Fairoz: “It feels great to be back playing as a striker because that has been my position since I started my football career. I’m definitely enjoying it as I feel that I’m able to give more to the team, being in my natural position; I’m assisting and scoring goals now. I want to get as many goals as I can – at least more than five – but the main target to give my best for the team in every single game.”

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