Brave Balestier fight back to see off Home

Balestier Khalsa extended their unbeaten run to 11 games in all competition after coming from behind to beat Home United 2-1 in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League.

Home United vs Balestier Khalsa: Shahril Jantan
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Bishan Stadium

It had been the Protectors who drew first blood after Lee Kwan-woo clinically dispatched an 11th-minute penalty, but Qiu Li curled home a sublime freekick six minutes before the break to level the scores.

Seven minutes after the hour mark, the Tigers enjoyed more joy from a set-piece as captain Paul Cunningham rose highest inside the area to head home Ruhaizad Ismail's freekick, which ultimately proved enough for the three points.

Although Balestier entered Wednesday's encounter as one of the in-form sides in the competition, they were looking for their first victory in three outings after giving away leading positions in recent draws against Warriors FC and Harimau Muda.

But they got off to the worst possible start in the tenth minute when the usually-dependable Jaslee Hatta tried to dribble past Indra Sahdan Daud but lost possession to the veteran, and ended up tripping his opponent inside the area.

Referee Yazeen Buhari had no choice but to point to the spot, allowing Lee to step up and confidently fire his effort past Zaiful Nizam's despairing dive into the bottom corner.

However, the Tigers nearly pulled level just two minutes later when Cunningham met Qiu's corner with firm header that crashed back off the post, before Obadin Aikhena looked set to score on the rebound but saw his effort cleared off the line.

In a fairly open start to the game, it was then the hosts' turn to threaten when Lee teased and turned his opponent down the left before floating a cross into the box, but Sirina Camara was unable to keep his free header down.

Seven minutes after the half-hour mark, Obadin had another opportunity when Home's failure to clear a corner saw the ball fall into his path, only for him to slice his shot from 12 yards out and send a tame effort straight into Shahril Jantan's arms.

Balestier's threat from dead-ball situations was largely stemming from some excellent deliveries from Qiu, and two minutes later, he came back to haunt his former club by netting the equaliser; lining up a 25-yard freekick and curling a stunning strike on his supposed weaker left foot into the top corner.

Buoyed at pulling level, the visitors came out for the second half displaying increased aggression and determination and Qiu nearly doubled his tally in the 56th minute, latching onto a neat pass by Park Kang-jin and unleashing a blistering drive that drew a fantastic save from Shahril.

Three minutes later, the Tigers carved out another opportunity when Zulkiffli Hassim beat Kwon Dak-yung in a 50-50 challenge down the left and charged forward, only to undo his good work with an over-hit cross that sailed over the head of Ruhaizad.

But in the 67th minute, Balestier's pressure finally paid off when they won a freekick on the right, allowing Ruhaizad to float an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Cunningham, who was strangely left unmarked at the far post. From a few yards with the entire goal to aim for, the New Zealander made no mistake in nodding the ball into the bottom corner to hand his side the lead.

Now needing to chase the game, the Protectors began to push more men forward but it also left gaps at the back for their opponents to exploit, and Qiu nearly turned provider in 75th minute when he swung a lovely cross in from the left, but substitute Poh Yi Feng could only head narrowly over after doing well to outjump his marker.

A week ago in their draw against Harimau Muda, Balestier perhaps paid for their decision to sit back and hold on to the lead, which ultimately cost them as the Malaysian side equalised in the fourth minute of injury-time.

Nonetheless, there was no such conservative approach on Wednesday as they continued to show intiative in the attacking third; Park coming close in the 78th minute with a blistering long-range effort that sailed just wide with Shahril rooted to the spot.

As the clock ticked over into injury-time, the South Korean midfielder came even closer to wrapping up the three points for Balestier when he picked up possession just inside the opposition half and unleashed a spectacular 40-yard volley that would have been a contender for goal of the season, until it clipped the bar and bounced back out to safety.

Although it meant that the Tigers ultimately had to settle for a one-goal win that failed to reflect their dominance, the joy on their faces was clear for all to see at the final whistle as they got back to winning ways.

Home United: Shahril Jantan, Masrezwan Masturi, Kwon Dak-yung, Sirina Camara, Juma'at Jantan (Song Ui-young 46'), Noh Rahman, Sofiyan Abdul Hamid, Firdaus Idros (Hafiz Rahim 59'), Lee Kwan-woo, Choi Jae-won (Haziq Azman 82'), Indra Sahdan Daud.

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Jaslee Hatta (Yusiskandar Yusop 35'), Obadin Aikhena, Paul Cunningham, Syed Thaha, Kim Min-ho, Tengku Mushadad, Park Kang-jin, Ruhaizad Ismail (Poh Yi Feng 70'), Zulkiffli Hassim, Qiu Li (Vitor Borges 87').

Image courtesy of Balestier Khalsa FC (Andrew Lim)

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