Albirex draw with Balestier, remain top

Balestier Khalsa captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam (in yellow) punching the ball clear during the match against Albirex Niigata, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Balestier Khalsa captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam (in yellow) punching the ball clear during the match against Albirex Niigata, which ended in a 1-1 draw. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

S-League leaders Albirex Niigata's bright start to the season was halted yesterday as they drew 1-1 with Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium.

The Japanese outfit had scored eight goals in their opening two fixtures but were on the back foot during the early exchanges as the Tigers began brightly.

The hosts thought they had made the breakthrough in the sixth minute through Fazli Ayob but the midfielder's header was ruled offside.

Having weathered the attacks, the White Swans took the lead in the 30th minute when a free kick from Masaya Jitozono caused confusion in the penalty area and Balestier defender Nurullah Hussein headed past his captain and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam for an own goal.

An inspired substitution by coach Marko Kraljevic helped the Tigers level the scores 10 minutes after the restart as Jamil Ali, having just come on to replace Fadhil Noh, volleyed home Fazli's cross.

Albirex's towering 1.9m striker Kazuki Mine almost scored the winner in the 88th minute but opposing goalkeeper Zaiful pushed his goal-bound effort onto the cross-bar.

The draw leaves Albirex top of the nine-team table with seven points. Balestier are eighth with one point.

In last night's other match, defending champions Brunei DPMM got their first win of the season, beating Warriors FC 3-1 at the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium.

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Albirex draw with Balestier, remain top'. Print Edition | Subscribe