Football: Young Lions finally notch a win in SPL this season, at the 13th time of asking

The Young Lions have largely impressed with their positive, entertaining football this season but a win had eluded them.
The Young Lions have largely impressed with their positive, entertaining football this season but a win had eluded them.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - It took them 13 rounds but the Young Lions finally tasted victory in the 2021 Singapore Premier League season after a 3-2 win over Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Saturday (July 31) evening.

The result meant that Balestier's winless run was extended to eight matches, despite coach Marko Kraljevic stating before the match that this was a must-win encounter for his team.

The Young Lions have largely impressed with their positive, entertaining football this season, but a win had eluded them. However, coach Philippe Aw was confident that as long as they kept their performances up, the win would eventually come.

He sang the same tune after the match.

He said: "Even before today, we put in performances that deserved victories. What's pleasing is that even before today, we stuck with the process and the boys have developed individually and as a team over the season.

"Today, we came here with a game plan and the boys carried it out perfectly. We spoke among ourselves and we came here with the belief and desire to get all three points. That was clear from how hard the boys fought on the field."

Kraljevic admitted his side need to improve defensively if they are to get out of this slump.

He said: "We conceded some silly goals and it was difficult after that. They gave us problems on the counter-attack. We tried our best, but we were second best.

"We concede too many goals in every game, it becomes difficult to even draw when it's like that. We need to cut that out. "

Balestier made four changes to the line-up that fell 3-1 to Geylang International in their previous match, with defender Ho Wai Loon and attacker Iqbal Hussain making their first starts.

The Young Lions made two changes to the squad that drew 1-1 with Tanjong Pagar, Khairin Nadim and Zulqarnaen Suzliman making the starting XI.

After a cagey first 15 minutes, the Young Lions were awarded a penalty when a brilliant lofted ball from Hami Syahin allowed Ilhan Fandi to run into the box, only to be brought down by Tigers' Amer Hakeem.

Hami stepped up to notch the opening goal despite goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam getting a palm to his effort.

The away side then doubled their lead in the 34th minute through winger Daniel Goh, who slotted in from close range against his former club after the Tigers failed to clear their lines from a Joel Chew free kick.


Young Lions (in black) playing against Balestier Khalsa in the Singapore Premier League on July 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

The Tigers returned from the half-time break determined to turn in an improved display and two minutes after the restart, they got a goal back through substitute Hazzuwan Halim.

The Young Lions' third arrived in the 86th minute after Hami's cross was tapped in by Harhys Stewart.

Balestier did spice things up in the last minutes of the game when Sime Zuzul scored the Tigers' second, but the Young Lions held on for their first three points of the season.

Analysis

Since day one of the SPL season, Young Lions head coach Philippe Aw has chosen to think long term, opting to prioritise performances over results. Results, he said, would come as a by-product of ensuring that his young squad kept to his philosophy of taking matches to the opposition regardless of reputation.

Over the course of the first 12 matches, the Young Lions often impressed with swift, daring and creative phases of play but were undone by their own naivety. But in recent matches, they have found a way to add disciplined defending into the mix.

Perhaps this was helped by the return of their captain and central defender, Jacob Mahler, who missed matches earlier in the season after enlisting for national service.

But the numbers are telling: In their last four matches, which included defeats by second-placed Lion City Sailors and league leaders Albirex Niigata, the Young Lions conceded six goals. In the four matches before, they shipped 13. Back in April, they went down 7-0 to Tampines Rovers as well.

With this new found resilience, the Young Lions could be primed to add to their sole victory. It is a recipe that Balestier may want to borrow as the Tigers look to end their winless streak.