News Singapore Premier League • June 21, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Warriors hungry to make it three for three against Balestier


Warriors FC striker Jonathan Behe is in fine goal-scoring form.

SINGAPORE, 21 JUNE 2018Warriors FC will be looking to continue their recent upsurge in form and make it three successive Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) wins when they host Balestier Khalsa FC at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Saturday evening, 23 June. The match will kick off at 5.30pm.

BACKGROUND Hard work does pay off. At least, that is the case for the Warriors, who have won their last two matches after going through their first ten league games without one.

Mirko Grabovac’s men accumulated six draws and four losses in the first two months of the season, plagued by combination of poor finishing and a failure to hold onto leads, though only one of those defeats was by more than a goal.

However, they kept plugging away and eventually notched a first win with a 2-0 defeat of Hougang United FC at the start of June. It was followed up by a stunning 3-2 scalp of Tampines Rovers FC at Our Tampines Hub last weekend – a result that made the local football fraternity stand up and take notice.

French forward Jonathan Behe stole the show by scoring all five goals over the two matches, but defender Emmeric Ong believes credit has to be given to the whole team for their recent resurgence.

“The whole team worked so hard and never stopped believing in ourselves,” the 27-year-old said. “We knew that if we stop conceding soft goals, we could come up with the goods upfront.

“We also knew that we could beat anyone and we showed that by beating a very strong Tampines side. Coach Mirko also deserves credit for believing in his own coaching ability and not changing his style.”

Next up for the nine-time champions is a chance to avenge a 2-1 away defeat against Balestier in late April.

The Tigers started the season strongly with three wins and a draw in their first six games, but they have hit a rut lately with three losses in their last five outings and dropped to fourth in the table.

Marko Kraljevic’s side fell to a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Hougang the last time out but despite their poor run, defender Sheikh Abdul Hadi is backing his team to bounce back.

“That’s football, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t,” said the 26-year-old. “Akbar (Shah) hit the post and (Hougang goalkeeper) Khairulhin (Khalid) pulled off some great saves… We just have to move on from this loss and look forward to our next game.

“We can’t give up; we have to continue to work even harder than our previous games. Things may not be going our way, but we will get what we want to achieve if we keep working hard and get that bit of luck.

“Behe’s a big threat, obviously, and it’s important to stop the service or crosses to him.”

One has to go all the way back to October 2014 for Balestier’s last victory at the venue – a 1-0 win courtesy of a late Goran Ljubojevic penalty.

The Warriors will continue to miss striker Khairul Nizam as he continues his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, while utility man Ho Wai Loon will also be absent due to a one-match suspension.

However, experienced midfielder Poh Yi Feng is back after being suspended against Tampines.

Meanwhile, Balestier will also miss Raihan Rahman and Sharin Majid, who are both out of the season due to ACL injuries. The game has also come too fast for defender Shaqi Sulaiman, striker Keegan Linderboom and midfielder Vedran Mesec as they recover from their knocks.

Warriors: LLDWW
Balestier: WLLWL

29/04/18: Balestier 2-1 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
17/08/17: Balestier 2-2 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
19/05/17: Warriors 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
28/02/17: Balestier 1-2 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
22/09/16: Balestier 1-1 Warriors – Singapore Premier League

Tajeli Salamat – Warriors
Behe may have grabbed the goals against Tampines, but Tajeli’s efforts should not be ignored, with his persistence earning the penalty for the former’s first goal that night. A player with good technical ability and the versatility to operate in a variety of positions, the 24-year-old has been one of the better performers for the Warriors this season.

Akbar Shah – Balestier
Akbar struck to prominence after coming off the bench to net his first professional goal in style against Young Lions in a 2-0 victory and he was unlucky not to score again in last week’s defeat to Hougang. The 22-year-old should start upfront again in the absence of Linderboom and should give the Warriors defenders some problems with his agility.

Warriors defender Ong:
“It’s always pleasing to see your striker (Behe) firing on all fronts and I’m confident that he can continue his good form.

“Realistically, the title race is over and even Tampines are quite far off from the rest in second. But the race for third and fourth is very keenly contested between the rest and I’m glad we have strung two wins together to put ourselves in the mix.

“That defeat to Balestier earlier in the season was hurtful, considering the chances we had even though we were a man down. With all due respect to Balestier, this coming game is one where we have to take all three points.”

Balestier defender Hadi: “Of course Linderboom is key to our game plan and it’s a blow not to have him available, but I think anybody can score.

“It’s still realistic to target a top-four finish. Even though we have a young team and we have some injuries, we go into every game with a winning mentality. No matter who’s available, I’m sure we will put up a good fight against Warriors.”

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