Goal-shy Tigers eyeing Radiant scalp in Cup

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic instructs his players during training. The Tigers are hoping for a win to kickstart their season.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic instructs his players during training. The Tigers are hoping for a win to kickstart their season. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Having won the Singapore League Cup in 2013, the RHB Singapore Cup in 2014, and finishing a creditable fourth in two of the past three S-League seasons, Balestier Khalsa are no slouches.

But this season, the Tigers have struggled for form, sitting second from bottom in both the S-League and their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup group.

They have just two victories in all competitions so far this year, one against Hong Kong's Kitchee (1-0) in the AFC Cup and the other a 2-0 S-League win over the Garena Young Lions last Thursday.

On the sidelines of a pre-match press conference for tonight's AFC Cup Group F clash with Maldivian champions New Radiant, Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic said of his team's poor start: "We haven't done much wrong... with (Sheikh Abdul) Hadi behind, along with Fazli (Ayob), our defence is not bad.

"The problem is up front. When you don't win for four to six games in a row, people become scared to control and pass the ball."

Indeed, despite conceding just nine goals, their toothless attack has scored a paltry five goals in nine S-League matches so far.

The Croatian strikeforce of Miroslav Kristic and Robert Pericic, who rifled in a combined 33 goals last season, has been unable to hit those heights, recording just a single goal between them this year.

Kristic ended his goal drought against the Young Lions last week while Pericic has been out since pre-season with a knee injury.

Tonight's clash against New Radiant will be made tougher with Kristic serving a one-match suspension for accumulating two bookings. Only victory will do for the Tigers, who trail Group F rivals Kaya FC and Kitchee SC with just four points from four games.

Yet with captain Zaiful Nizam noting an improvement in morale after their first S-League win, victory tonight could be key to Balestier turning the corner.

The goalkeeper told The Straits Times: "Obviously, not winning any game in the first round was difficult for us and everyone felt down... the win was a good start and boost for us to get our confidence and momentum back."

Yet he insists that the team will not rest on its laurels: "We don't judge only by one game. We need to push every game, then the next win will come. We know we still need to push hard and motivate each other... but there's definitely a more positive vibe in the dressing room now."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Goal-shy Tigers eyeing Radiant scalp in Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe