Voices From The Ground: Balestier Khalsa FC vs Home United FC: Protectors Grind Tigers Out Amidst A Sea Of Yellow And Red

Photo: Great Eastern Hyundai S.League

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground:  Ordinarily, when a match produces eight yellow cards and three red cards, it would be described as an ill-tempered encounter. Monday night’s game was anything but ordinary.

After a snooze-worthy first half devoid of any good shots on goal, the second half was played out in spectacular fashion. Raihan Rahman scored his third goal in all competitions to put the Tigers ahead with a penalty but then the Tigers retreated into their shell and invited the Protectors to push their men forward. They sat back even when Sirina Camara got sent off after two full-blooded tackles and essentially tried to play a counter-attacking game like what Hougang did against the Protectors.

The Tigers did possess their own visionary in the form of Hazzuwan Halim but he wasn’t able to pull off what Nazrul Nazari did for the Cheetahs. By the time he came on in the 83rd minute, it was a case of too little, too late.

Home United got their own penalty two minutes later for a golden chance served on a platter for Stipe Plazibat, the league’s top scorer to savour. The goal, coupled with Khairul Nizam’s neat finish earlier, condemned the Tigers to their 10th defeat of the season.

Home United made a single change for the match in comparison to their lineup against Hougang with Sufianto Salleh coming in for Adam Swandi, a very small number considering the fact that they played a grueling match the Cheetahs just three days ago.

Both teams were also missing key players; Home United did not have the services of Hassan Sunny, Song Ui-Young and Christoper Van Huizen while goal-scoring hero Khairul Nizam wasn’t fully fit. At the other end, household Balestier names such as Hazzuwan and Hanafi Akbar were also glaring absentees from the Tigers' starting line up.

The heavy pitch didn’t do the players any favor as Home United tried to play an attacking brand of football while Balestier tried to counter-attack with pace. Neither task was easily accomplished on the heavy Toa Payoh pitch. As a result, as the minutes went past, energy levels dropped and tempers were frayed, which in turn caused some late and full-blooded tackles. That resulted in the high number of cards but the game was by no means dirty.

Home United bossed the statistics in terms of their offensive play but their lack of a breakthrough in the first half was something worth contemplating. Was it due to the pitch, missing players or fatigue? Balestier Khalsa tried too hard to preserve their one goal lead too early in the match and couldn’t last the distance. That was another point worth mulling over. Was it due to the fact that they saw it as their best chance to get something from the game? If they could not strive for a better balance in terms of possession when they were one man up, it was certainly a tall order to hope for that when they lost players of their own.

During the press conference, Balestier’s Head Coach Marko Kraljević felt that his team wasn’t trying to defend their lead, instead, they were trying to push Home United and were really hardworking. He was happy with the fact that Home United wasn't creating clear chances as a result and that it was unfortunate that his team failed to mark their opponents properly and conceded the equalizing goal via a corner.

Kraljević was visibly proud of his team’s efforts eve though he had the second youngest team in the league, right after the Young Lions. With regard to the upcoming League Cup, the Croat cheered up visibly as they would be playing two out of their three group matches at home and felt that his team would have a good Cup run.

Aidil Shahrin gave major props to Balestier Khalsa after the game as he felt that they did really well and made his team work hard for the result. Aidil was also proud of his charges as they were able to fight on valiantly despite being one man down.

The Protectors' Head Coach was also visibly happy to comment about Albirex Niigata (S)’s defeat to Hougang United as the title race was now truly alive. With regard to the upcoming League Cup, he reflected that the Cup was the reason why rested players like as Adam was rested while Khairul Nizam was only brought on late in the game.

Pre-match interview with Home United Fan Club Chairman Eddy Hirono

Chris (C): I expected Balestier to play defensively, perhaps with a five man defense and look to exploit Home United on the counterattack. They haven’t got the likes of Fumiya Kogure or Nazrul Nazari to trouble your defense. It should be an easier game compared to last week but the last time Home United met Balestier Khalsa, they barely scraped past with a one goal win. As we witnessed Home United's last game against Hougang, anything can happen. If you were the coach, would you go in with all guns blazing or practice caution tonight?

Eddy Hirono (E): Stipe wasn’t playing last time round. I trust in Khairul Nizam but Stipe is downright deadly! Balestier may not have a player with the composure of Fumiya but the likes of Aung Kyaw Naing has raw pace. We need to be careful or we might be caught in their offside traps. We should have the know-how on to get something tonight or the title challenge will look dire.

C: They do have Hazzuwan Halim, a creative midfielder with an eye for goals. With the crazy schedule due to the League Cup and subsequent AFC involvement, how would you manage the squad if you were the coach?

E: Fringe players like Marijan Suto may play a more prominent role. Or Nizam may, in place of Stipe who may not be started if he started today. Amiruldin Asraf will play more too, he’s been subbed off regularly. I will try to get everyone to contribute to the Cup, which I feel is important. I will trust players on the fringe and witness what they can do.

C: The league is essentially split up into three tiers. Do you think the current clear hierarchy is healthy for the league?

E: It’s not healthy, I do expect that in the long run, the likes of Brunei DPMM will make a resurgence once they get their signings right. The likes of Hougang has also proved that they can beat anyone on any given day. I'm hoping that Hougang will do us a favor tonight.

C: Our usual mind versus heart game, what’s the score like?

E: Of course I hope that Home United will cruise through 4-0. In reality, tired legs must be factored in and I think it will be tight, 1-0 or 2-0 perhaps? We will get a clean sheet. Of course, I don’t want any injuries or suspensions.

C: Thanks and good luck!

Post-match interview with Home United Fan Club Chairman Eddy Hirono

C: Hazzuwan was arguably their most talented player. He only came on in the 83nd minute and it was too little too late. Were you relieved that he didn't see more game time?

E: Perhaps a little relieved, though I felt that Balestier, as predicted, were quick on the break, and caused us problems anyway!

C: Khairul Nizam coming on to score another goal after replacing Amiruldin Asraf. It must feel good.

E: I've always been a big fan of Khairul Nizam – he works hard and is a handful for any defender to deal with. He showed that again today with an instinctive finish that was so crucial for us tonight.

C: Do you think that the victory was deserved? The pitch wasn't the best and play was generally scrappy.

E: I think to be very honest, even a draw might have been fair – although I am delighted with the 3 points! I felt Balestier defended very well for the most part and had little trouble keeping us at bay.

For the dogged determination to fight till the end, and this despite being a man short, iI think perhaps we deserve it. Even when we were down to ten men, when we got the equalizer you could see the players rushing to retrieve the ball for a quick restart. That shows you the desire of the team to get the 3 points. In the end, that desire was what got us the 3 points.

C: How ''Hougang'' was Balestier,in terms of playing a counter-attacking game?

E: I felt that Balestier, had they been a bit sharper, could have punished us more. That's the difference right now between Balestier and Hougang – had Balestier been able to sign someone at the attacking end of the pitch to solve their goal-scoring woes, they might have won this one.

C: Is Sirina Camara's discipline a concern? (Editor: Sirina Camara received his second red card in all competitions in this match)

E: I think Camara's discipline isn't a concern – he just got a little carried away trying to stop the counter-attack – which is understandable i guess, given Balestier's pace on the counter.

C: Now that Home United are 2 points behind Albirex and 1 point ahead of Tampines, how big was the win? Any words for Hougang United on their recent giant-killing exploits?

E: This was a huge win for us, especially given the circumstances where we finished with 10 men and was trailing late in the game. It was so vital for us to get these 3 points.

And for Hougang, a big, big "Thank you!" of course! When i saw their lineup, I expected them to be played off the park by Albirex, but well well, that didn't happen, they did it! Their victory keeps us in touch, and that is crucial!

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