Home shut out by Tigers again

Another match against Home United, another shut-out for Balestier Khalsa.

Zulkiffli Hassim's first-half strike gave Balestier a 1-0 win over the Protectors at the Toa Payoh Stadium last night, with the win propelling the Tigers up to fifth, level with Home and Albirex Niigata on 24 points.

Lee Lim Saeng's men have now failed to score just four times in the S-League this season, and two of those occasions have been against Balestier.

The two sides drew 0-0 in an earlier encounter at Home's Bishan Stadium in February.

Like the previous fixture, Home - who are the league's second-highest scorers, averaging two goals a game - found no joy up against Paul Cunningham and Co in the Balestier backline.

With a wide grin, the Balestier captain said after the game: "We like the physical challenge of Home, as compared to nippy, quick teams like Albirex.

"Against Home, we know that if we work hard for the 90 minutes and fight for second balls, we've got a chance to win the game."

While Cunningham's coach Darren Stewart was at a loss to explain his team's stellar defensive record against Home, he praised his side for their work rate.

"I don't know why we defend so well against them, but what won us the game tonight was hard work," said the Australian.

"We knew they would play the long ball. We wanted them to do that, and we were really solid tonight."

Deserved

Balestier's win was a deserved one on the balance of play.

After Zulkiffli put them in front on 24 minutes with a curling left-foot shot, Goran Subara nearly extended with a header nine minutes later. But it came off the upright.

The Tigers' dominance continued after the break, and Cunningham saw his goalbound header off a corner-kick cleared off the line by Home's Nor Azli Yusoff.

For all their firepower - the front three of Frederic Mendy, Qiu Li and Shotaro Ihata have accounted for 23 of Home's goals - the visitors did not look threatening in the final third. The closest they came was when Qiu's 20-metre free-kick was tipped over the bar by Balestier goalkeeper Zakariah Nerani in the second half.

Said Stewart: "As a coach, most times you don't enjoy the game because you're always tense thinking about it.

"But tonight, I really enjoyed watching us play. We were magnificent."

Home assistant coach Baek Jong Seok, who faced the press in the place of irate head coach Lee, conceded they deserved to lose.

"In terms of performance, you can say this was one of our worst this season," he said.

"We couldn't start the game well and had to change our tactics and, from there, Balestier dominated.

"The result is upsetting and disappointing, but we have to accept it and prepare for our next game."

Meanwhile, at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, Albirex came out tops in a seven-goal thriller to beat SAFFC 4-3 and move up to fourth in the table.

Both teams took turns taking the lead at different points in the game, but two goals in the last eight minutes by Yasuhiro Yamakoshi (82nd minute) and Atsushi Shimono (90th) sealed the win for the Japanese side.

Shuhei Hotta opened the scoring for Albirex in the 24th minute and SAFFC stormed back through strikes by Shimpei Sakurada (26th) and Mislav Karoglan (46th and 64th), but it was not enough.

Norihiro Kawakami grabbed the other goal for Albirex in the 49th minute.

Last night's results left the top five teams in the league separated by just five points.

 msazali@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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