DPMM toil to victory over gutsy Balestier

A spirited display was not enough to get Balestier Khalsa over the line on Friday as they fell lost 1-0 to DPMM FC in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League.

Balestier Khalsa vs DPMM FC: Qiu Li
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium

Despite a strong start, the Tigers fell behind in unfortunate circumstances in the 35th minute when Tengku Mushadad inadvertently scored an own-goal, but despite coming back even stronger in the second half, they were unable to find the equaliser as DPMM held on for all three points.

Although most of the attention was on Friday's other clash at the Jurong East Stadium, which saw leaders Tampines Rovers lock horns with title challengers Albirex Niigata (S), the Jalan Besar Stadium was the venue of an equally enthralling clash given the two sides in action produced two memorable meeting last season.

Roughly 12 months ago, it was at the same stadium where the Tigers' early-season title bid started to unravel after they fell to a 3-1 defeat to the Bruneian outfit, but they exacted some measure of revenge in the final round of the campaign as a 2-0 victory at the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium, coupled with Tampines' 1-0 win over Harimau Muda ensured DPMM could not be crowned champions.

On Friday, it was Balestier who got off to a bright start as they carved out the first opening after eight minutes; Park Kang-jin sending Hamqaamal Shah down the left after a neat run and pass, only for his cross to be headed clear by Sairol Sahari before Kim Min-ho could pounce.

Eight minutes later, it was the designated visitors' turn to threaten as an awful pass from Jung Hee-bong handed possession to Shahrazen Said, who stepped forward and unleashed a curling 25-yard strike that sailed just wide of the post.

Although the Tigers are more often renowned for their tactical discipline and defensive capabilities, they were showing equally good signs in the attacking third and Jung wasted a good chance on the half-hour mark when he scuffed his shot into Tales dos Santos, after being picked up unmarked in the box by Qiu Li's cut-back.

Four minutes later, Shahrazen caused more problems for the opposition defence as he clipped a lovely ball into the path of Joao Moreira, who let fly with a half-volley that required Zaiful Nizam to push to safety, but there was little the Balestier keeper undid his good work a minute later as an error helped DPMM take the lead.

The ex-Gombak United man, who had an otherwise excellent game, decided to come off his line to claim Sairol's corner but completely missed his punch and allowed the ball to fall to Moreira at the back post.

The Portuguese looked to have wasted the chance as his close-range shot was blocked on the line by Poh Yi Feng, but the ball smashed fortuitously smashed into the body of the luckless Tengku, who could only watch on in horror as the ball nestled into the back of the net.

Two minutes before the break, it could easily have been 2-0 after Hendra Azam received the ball on the right and whipped in a brilliant first-time cross for Dos Santos to head just wide of the bottom corner, although it would not have counted as the linesman had his flag raised for offside.

Despite heading into the break trailing, Balestier had arguably been the better side in the opening 45 and they continued in that fashion in the second half. Five minutes in, Zulkiffli Hassim, brought on for Kim Min-ho, cleverly created space for himself inside the box with a lovely flick and played in a low cross to Jung, who tried to turn the ball towards goal with a backheel but had Dos Santos standing in his way.

Eight minutes later, Zulkiffli broke free down the left once again after racing onto a inventive over-the-top ball by Park, but from a narrow angle he could only fire straight at Wardun, who had done well to make himself big in a one-on-one situation.

By now, the designated hosts were firmly in the ascendancy but DPMM's qualiy meant they were always going to be able to grab a second if their opponents were not careful.

A minute after the hour mark, that nearly happened when an incisive ball out wide by Shahrazen sent Sairol racing through down the left; the wing-back proceeding to clip a near-perfect cross to the back post that Moreira just failed to connect with from two yards out.

Four minutes later, Zaiful then atoned for his earlier error when he made a brilliant save to deny Rosmin Kamis, after the Brunei international had lined up a freekick and curled in an effort that looked destined for the top corner.

Balestier then had Zaiful to thank once more as he made another smart save in the 68th minute to keep the score at 1-0; pushing wide a snapshot by Moreira after the Portuguese had beaten Tengku in the air and raced onto his own flick-on.

But as the game entered its closing stages, the Tigers mustered one final push and really piled the pressure on their opponents.

11 minutes from time, it looked to have paid off when Qiu raced through after a brilliant through-pass by Park and fired past Wardun, only for the strike to be chalked off by the linesman's flag even though the Singapore international looked to have been level with the opposition backline when he began his run.

 A minute later, Balestier let a couple of chances in quick succession pass them by; Zulkiffli finding space down the right but choosing to cross rather than shoot and allowed Wardun to push his delivery away, before Jung received the ball 20 yards out but blazed his shot way over.

By now, towering centre-back Obadin Aikhena had been thrown forward Tigers coach Darren Stewart as a last-ditch attempt to grab an equaliser, and it nearly proved to be a masterstroke in the 90th minute when he picked up possession on the edge of the area and sent a neat through-ball to Zulkiffli.

Nonetheless, there was just too much power on his pass and Wardun was able to race out and smother before his opponent could fire a shot away, halting Balestier's final opportunity to force a draw.

Ultimately, DPMM held on for all three points that takes them up to fourth on the table, while their opponents had to deal with a fourth defeat of the season, but just like in most of their previous defeats, the Tigers certainly could not be faulted for a lack of trying.

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Poh Yi Feng (Yusiskandar Yusop 81'), Obadin Aikhena, Tengku Mushadad, Syed Thaha, Kim Min-ho (Zulkiffli Hassim 46'), Ridwan Jamil, Park Kang-jin, Hamqaamal Shah (Patrick Paran 46'), Jung Hee-bong, Qiu Li.

DPMM FC: Wardun Yussof, Subhi Abdilah, Dino Drpic (Pg Sallehuddin Damit 83'), Tales dos Santos, Helmi Zambin, Rosmin Kamis, Hendra Azam (Najib Tarif 90'), Sairol Sahari, Shahrazen Said, Adi Said (Ampuan Nurul Azami 67'), Joao Moreira.

Image courtesy of Balestier Khalsa FC (Andrew Lim)

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