Match Of The Week

Tigers basking in rarefied air

Keegan Linderboom (left) and Hazzuwan Halim celebrating after Linderboom scores the first goal for Balestier Khalsa. The Tigers overcame Warriors at Toa Payoh Stadium to move to second behind Albirex Niigata.
Keegan Linderboom (above) and Hazzuwan Halim celebrating after Linderboom scores the first goal for Balestier Khalsa. The Tigers overcame Warriors at Toa Payoh Stadium to move to second behind Albirex Niigata.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

From finishing third-last last term, Balestier are now second after beating Warriors 2-1

SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Balestier Khalsa 2

Warriors FC 1


They had a paltry 19 points and scored 17 goals in 24 games as they finished third from bottom last season.

Balestier Khalsa now have 10 points from just six games after after beating struggling Warriors FC 2-1 at Toa Payoh Stadium yesterday.

The win propelled the Tigers to a lofty second spot behind defending champions Albirex Niigata (15 points) in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) table, a far cry from last term when they were struggling for wins and goals.

No wonder Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic could not stop smiling.

GOOD SHOW

It feels very good, excellent (to win again). It's not really about the table, because there's a long way to go... I'm very happy with the performance.

MARKO KRALJEVIC , Balestier coach.

The Croat said: "It feels very good, excellent (to win again).

"It's not really about the table, because there's a long way to go.

"But I think we did well today... I'm very happy with the performance, everybody worked hard."

Balestier opened the scoring through the in-form New Zealand striker Keegan Linderboom in the 26th minute. The 28-year-old made no mistake in front of an open goal, after goalkeeper Fashah Iskandar was unable to deal with Hazzuwan Halim's ball into the box.

The Tigers doubled their lead five minutes after half-time, when Noor Akid Nordin swept the ball home, after 1.88m Croatian midfielder Vedran Mesec flicked the ball into the danger area from a long throw-in.

Despite going down to 10 men after Ismadi Mukhtar was sent off for lashing out at Mesec in the 67th minute, the Warriors pulled one back in the 74th minute.

French striker Jonathan Behe, fit again after recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out for three matches, headed home a good cross by Tajeli Salamat.

The Warriors felt they should have been awarded a penalty in the 85th minute, after substitute Suria Prakash waltzed past two players only to go down under Shaqi Sulaiman's challenge.

But referee Ahmad A'Qashah was unmoved.

The loss left the nine-time league champions struggling in seventh place, winless after five games.

Coach Mirko Grabovac, a former Warriors striker who won the league title twice and the Golden Boot four times during his time at the club from 1999-2003, admitted that this was not the return to Singapore football he had imagined.

The 46-year-old, who retired in 2008 and returned to his native Croatia, took up the reins in January in the hope of turning their fortunes around. They finished fifth (2015 and 2017) and seventh (2016) in the last three seasons.

"For sure, we cannot be happy with this result," he said glumly.

"Balestier played the long ball, but you can see we did not challenge.

"Today, we saw good (performances) from the bench in Tajeli, Suria, Behe, but some other players... Sahil (Suhaimi), (Ho) Wai Loon, I expected more from them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2018, with the headline 'Tigers basking in rarefied air'. Print Edition | Subscribe