Stewart excited by flying Balestier start

Balestier Khalsa coach Darren Stewart admits he has been pleased with the Tigers' unbeaten start to the 2012 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League season.

Football News: Balestier Khalsa

Balester eked out a creditable draw against Home United in their season opener on February 10, before recording a shock 1-0 win over defending champions Tampines Rovers a week later.

Their impressive form was somewhat halted last Sunday against Gombak United as Mustaqim Manzur's 80th-minute equaliser denied the Tigers all three points.

Nonetheless, Stewart remains delighted with his side's start to the season, and insists they should go into every game believing they can win, especially their victory over Tampines.

"I'm very happy with the way we are at the moment," Stewart told ESPNSTAR.com's Gabriel Tan in an exclusive interview. "The solidness of our pre-season has really helped us get a good start to the season.

"That [the 1-0 win over Tampines] really gave us a lot of confidence and we can move forward from there.

"We shouldn't fear anyone, but we also need to be careful and not be complacent.

The likes of Tampines, Home and SAFFC, who all finished in the top three last term, have had disappointing starts to their campaigns so far, but while Stewart expects them to bounce back soon, he believe his side can still give the big guns a run for their money.

"I'm sure the big guns will all bounce back very soon," the 45-year-old added. "They're championship-winning teams at the bottom end of the table that - with their quality - won't stay there for long.

"We'd like to be there or thereabouts, we're not hiding from that, but if we can come in the top five, that will be good start for the season.

"That was roughly what we were looking at and as the season goes on we'll relook at our target - hopefully it'll be higher. At the moment we're going well and we want to just keep doing that."

And despite watching his side get held to a 1-1 draw on Sunday by a team many had expected them to defeat, Stewart is not overly upset with the result and is already looking forward to Thursday's match against Hougang United.

"To be honest we didn't deserve to three points [against Gombak]," the former Australia international added. "It was probably our worst game since we started pre-season [but] the boys are entitled to an off-day and they had it. Hopefully that's it and they can get on with it now.

"It wasn't through lack of effort - we just didn't play well. If it happens regularly, then there's a big problem.

"We're looking forward to Thursday's game. I'm glad it was so close, to wipe Sunday's game away."

One of Balestier's stars of the season so far has been Australian centre-back Goran Subara, who moved to the Toa Payoh Stadium in pre-season to reunite with Stewart, who first brought him to the S.League in 2009 with Gombak.

And having seen Subara spend most of last season playing in midfield for SAFFC, Stewart is adamant the player does his best work in the heart of defence.

"I've known Goran for a long time; I brought him to Asia and his best position is stopper," Stewart explained. "He's been playing out of position in the middle of midfield, where he's equally as good.

"But if we have a strong backline, that's the first way to having a good platform."

Last weekend's match against Gombak drew nearly 2,400 fans to the Toa Payoh Stadium, something Stewart believes the club's management deserves full credit for.

"[The crowd on Sunday was] superb," Stewart said. "A lot of people don't know the effort behind the scenes that the club have put in to ensure that.

"Our chairman Balbeer [Singh] has worked behind the scenes incredibly hard, and it paid off because it was a superb atmosphere."

Balestier take on Hougang at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Thursday, before entertaining Woodlands Wellington next Sunday.



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