News • February 28, 2016

Stubborn Tigers Frustrate White Swans To Claim A Point


Written by: Alex Weaver

Balestier Khalsa earned their first point in their Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League 2016 campaign after coming from behind to hold league leaders Albirex Niigata (S) to a 1-1 draw at Toa Payoh Stadium on Saturday evening.

Nurullah Hussein headed the ball into the back of his own net to help the visitors open the scoring in the first-half, before substitute Jamil Ali equalised for the hosts early in the second-half to help Balestier salvage a draw.

The result meant that the White Swans kept their position at the top of the table while the Tigers remained in eighth-placed and also become the first club to stop any Albirex players from scoring this season.

The visitors struggled to replicate their usual slick, fast passing on the heavy pitch from the get-go, while the hosts looked the likeliest to open their scoring first with their quick counter-attacks and set-plays, if not for poor executions.

However, it was the White Swans that found the breakthrough first when a free-kick, viciously whipped-in by Masaya Jitozono, was met by the head of young centre-back Nurullah who, despite beating the Albirex attackers to the ball, could only guide it past a stunned Zaiful Nizam and into his own goal in the 30th minute.

Balestier had many opportunities to draw level before the interval, but their continued profligacy from their numerous set-plays meant that they went into the break a goal down.

The second period started the same way as the first did, until Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic decided that to make a tactical change by bringing on Jamil for the ineffective Fadhil Noh in the 54th minute, to add more attacking bite upfront for the Tigers.

The change worked wonders immediately as Jamil repaid his coach’s faith one minute after coming on, when Fazli Ayob took control of the ball in midfield and played a delightful pass beyond the Albirex defence for the substitute to volley past Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.

The game continued at a relatively slow tempo with few clear-cut chances for either side until the final minutes, when Kazuki Mine was pushed forward into a more advanced position after the 1.9m tall striker started the second-half at centre-back.

Mine then found himself with the opportunity to grab all three points for the White Swans in stoppage time after rising the highest to meet Kento Nagasaki’s cross, but saw his close-range header brilliantly tipped away by Zaiful.

Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic: “I’m so pleased for the boys. This is excellent work. Albirex is a good team as they keep possession well but we defended very well also. We closed them down very well as they changed from side to another.”

“This guy (Jamil Ali) is an amazing player. He is something of a different level as he can make something from nothing. It happened exactly the same in the Maldives (in a recent AFC Cup match) where he set up a goal. He can change a game.”

Albirex Niigata (S) coach Naoki Naruo: “We were here for the three-points today so its disappointing not to win but we want to learn from today and keep improving.”

“Even though Balestier are tough we have to try and play our style of football. Balestier are physically strong so I knew this game would be difficult.”

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK) (C), Fadli Kamis, Hafai Salleh, Shah Hirul, Nurullah Hussein, Miroslav Kristic, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fazli Ayob, Fadhil Noh (Jamil Ali 54’), Hazzuwan Halim (Syafiq Zainal 69’), Gary Loo (Tan Danial Farhan 69’)

Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Mikiya Yamada, Atsushi Shirota, Naofumi Tanaka, Masaya Jitozono, Kazuki Mine, Kento Nagasaki (C), Atsushi Kawata, Daichi Ishiyama (Tomoki Menda 78’), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Tatsuro Inui 60’), Rui Kumada