Balestier bounce back with Geylang triumph

Balestier Khalsa recorded their first win of the 2013 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season on Tuesday after edging Geylang International 1-0 at the Toa Payoh Stadium.

Ruhaizad pounces to fire home from close range!
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

In a tasty encounter that saw both teams end the game with ten men, Ruhaizad Ismail scored what proved to be the winner in the 22nd minute when he pounced on an error by Takuma Ito and fired home from close range.

The game then turned ugly 19 minutes from time when Zulkiffli Hassim was handed a straight red after stamping on Taufiq Ghani, but he was immediately followed by Jalal, who threw a punch his opponent's way in the ensuing fracas.

Although the Eagles then launched an all-out assault on the opposition goal, Balestier were ultimately able to hold out for all three points and ensured they responded in the perfect manner following last Friday's disappointing 3-1 loss to Tanjong Pagar United.

In that game, the Tigers had been left with a mountain to climb after conceding two goals in the opening nine minutes and that nearly happened again on Tuesday as their opponents started the stronger of the two sides.

Four minutes in, Jozef Kaplan turned sharply inside the area before going down under a challenge from Jaslee Hatta but referee Abdul Malik Bashir was unmoved and waved away the protests.

Five minutes later, Geylang threatened again when Yasir Hanapi broke down the right and played a cross into the path of Taufiq, who did extremely well to keep his half-volley under control despite running at full tilt and nearly lobbed Daniel Ong; his effort landing on the roof of the net.

Eager to avoid going behind to an early goal for the second game running, the hosts gradually upped their energy levels and opened the scoring with their first real chance eight minutes before the half-hour mark.

New signing Qiu Li, who starred against the Jaguars last week, started the move in midfield when he played a visionary ball to release Zulkiffli, who tore down the left before picking out Jung Hee-bong with a good cross. With no defender close by, the South Korean rifled in a shot that was parried by Ito straight to Ruhaizad, who showed excellent composure to create a bit of space despite being surrounded by defenders and drilled a clinical strike into the bottom corner.

Having broken the deadlock, Balestier could easily have doubled their lead in the 30th minute when Jalal almost netted an own goal after his rushed back-pass caught Ito off guard, but the Japanese custodian raced back just in time to clear the ball before it could creep over the line.

Now firmly in the ascendancy, the Tigers continued to push forward and had another chance seven minutes before the break when a deep freekick by Tengku Mushadad was headed back across the face of goal by Jung, but just as the ball looked set to fall to one of his team-mates, Delwinder Singh halted the threat with an excellent clearance right under his own crossbar.

Eight minutes into the second half, Zulkiffli, who was linking up very well with Qiu and Park Kang-jin in the attacking third, wasted a good chance when he blazed over from just inside the area, after the latter had won possession in the middle of the park and sent him through with a neat pass.

Like Balestier, the Eagles were also looking to bounce back from defeat after falling to a 5-0 rout by Eastern derby rivals Tampines Rovers last Wednesday; a game which saw them come to life shortly after the break but fail to make the most of their chances.

Again on Tuesday, they started to take their game up a notch after halftime and Ong had to be alert in the 55th minute to race out and claim a brilliant through-ball by Yasir, just as Kaplan looked set to pounce.

Despite being deployed in an attacking-midfield role, Kaplan proved to be prolific in front of goal last season as he netted 14 times to finish as the league's joint-second top scorer.

However, he was guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance a minute after the hour mark when his tenacity saw him rob Obadin Aikhena of possession on the edge of the box and break through, only for him to fire wide in a one-on-one situation with the opposition goalkeeper.

Although they were now finding themselves increasingly under attack, the Tigers still looked dangerous on the counter given the pace of Zulkiffli and Qiu, and the duo linked up well to create a chance for the latter right minutes later. Receiving possession down the right, the Singapore international eased past a challenge before firing a left-footed strike past Ito, but Delwinder again came to his side's rescue by weighing in with a goal-line clearance.

Up to that point, the game had been played in a spirited nature with both sides putting in a number of feisty challenges that bordered more on aggressive rather than violent.

Nonetheless, all that changed in the 71st minute when Zulkiffli inexplicably stamped on Taufiq near the centre circle, sparking off a heated confrontation that saw Jalal throw a punch his way. While the flashpoint was over almost as quickly as it had started, Abdul Malik was left with no alternative but to issue both players their marching orders.

With the end in sight, Balestier then began to go on lockdown mode and allowed the visitors to control the game but they were nearly made to pay in the 12 minutes from time when Amy Recha slid the ball to Shotaro Ihata, who took it in his stride before unleashing a ferocious effort, only to be denied with a fine save by Ong.

A minute later, the precocious Amy, who broke on the scene in stunning fashion last season, went on a penetrating run down the left before drilling the ball across the face of goal, but the recovering Syed Thaha got just enough to clear the ball to safety.

Now pushing almost everyone forward in a vain attempt to force the equaliser, Geylang had one final chance in the 83rd minute to steal a share of the spoils when centre-back Norihiro Kawakami decided to go it on his own and charged through the middle before pulling the trigger.

But just as it seemed as though his shot might beat Ong and find the bottom corner, Thaha denied him with a sliding block, sending all three points Balestier's way and leaving the Eagles still looking for their first point - and goal - of 2013.

Balestier Khalsa: Daniel Ong, Yusiskandar Yusop, Obadin Aikhena, Jaslee Hatta, Syed Thaha, Ruhaizad Ismail (Patrick Paranjody 67'), Park Kang-jin (Shafuan Sutohmoh 84'), Tengku Mushadad, Zulkiffli Hassim, Jung Hee-bong, Qiu Li (Hamqaamal Shah 73').

Geylang International: Takuma Ito, Khayrulhayat Jumat (Wahyudi Wahid 86'), Delwinder Singh, Norihiro Kawakami, Jalal, Fabian Kwok, Taufiq Ghani (Ahmad Khidhir 84'), Jozef Kaplan, Yasir Hanapi, Amy Recha, Shotaro Ihata.

Attendance: 1,434

Image courtesy of S.League

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