Balestier vs Albirex Player Ratings

ESPNSTAR.com's Gabriel Tan was at the Jurong East Stadium on Friday to witness a resolute Balestier Khalsa record a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata.

Kawakami showing off his aerial prowess.

A Great Eastern-YEO's match that promised a battle of tactical approaches lived up to expectations as the Tigers countered the hosts' fast-passing game with a determined and well-organised performance.

Balestier winger Zulkiffli Hassim put the visitors ahead in the 28th minute when he latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area and rifled a shot into Takuma Ito's bottom corner, but the White Swans hit back just seven minutes later when Kunihiro Yamashita found the back of the net despite Joey Sim's best efforts.

However, Darren Stewart's charges retook the lead on the hour mark when Zulkiffli stole the ball just outside the Albirex box and laid it into the path of Park Kang-jin, who made no mistake from 20 yards out.

The Japanese side then spent the remainder of the game piling forward by failed to find a way past a Balestier defence that was well marshalled by captain Paul Cunningham, as the Tigers finally returned to winning ways.

Here, ESPNSTAR.com takes a look at the movers and shakers from Friday's game.

Albirex Niigata

Takuma Ito - 6

The Albirex stopper was relatively untroubled all evening long but was to blame for Zulkiffli's opener after he put his own defence under severe pressure with an unnecessary quick throw.

Could do nothing about the subsequent finish, as well as Park's winner in the 60th minute.

Hidekazu Yamamoto - 6.5

A fairly decent display from Yamamoto at the back, but he looked genuinely concerned that he might have been exposed by Zulkiffli's pace on the counter and refused to venture forward much, something his side sorely missed.

Norihiro Yamamoto - 7

The Albirex captain put in a steady display at the back and was unlucky to be on the losing side as there was nothing he could do about both Balestier goals.

Kunihiro Yamashita - 7.5

There's always a risk when a centre-back opts to stay up after a set-piece even when the ball is cleared, and sometimes when opponents punish you, there is no one else to take to blame.

On this occasion however, Yamashita's instincts proved him right as he loitered long enough in the opposition area to pick up a pass from Atsushi Shimono and equalise for the White Swans.

Takeshi Ito - 7

A lively display from the left-back who never stopped bombing forward to support the attack, spending most of the second half effectively play as a midfielder.

Ito also carried out his defensive duties capably, and denied the visitors a certain goal when he put in a fantastic box at the far post to deny an unmarked Patrick Paranjody at the far post.

Shuhei Hotta - 5

Hotta will have to take some portion of the blame for the loss after dwelling on the ball for far too long, allowing Zulkiffli to nip and lay off the ball for Park's winner.

Atsushi Shimono - 7

The ponytailed Shimono looks one of the most complete midfielders in the S.League, and despite being on the losing side on Friday, he displayed a full range of passing, dribbling and tackling qualities.

Yuhei Shiratori (off 63') - 6

It was slightly surprising to see Shiratori start in place of normal playmaker Musashi Okuyama, but he did look energetic early on.

However, the 20-year-old's influence gradually faded and he was hauled off by coach Koichi Sugiyama just after the hour mark.

Masatake Sato (off 68') - 4

Barely sighted despite being on the field for almost 70 minutes. Sato did have one opening in the 25th minute after a neat lay-off from Toshikazu Soya, but he had the door unceremoniously shut in his face by a terrific sliding challenge from Hamqaamal Shah.

Sho Kamimura - 8.5

Kamimura has been Albirex's most consistent player of the season so far, putting in excellent performances every week whether or not the rest of his team-mates are performing.

While he didn't get as many shooting opportunities as he would have liked to have, the pacy winger was almost unstoppable at times as Balestier required multiple players just to get the ball of him.

Toshikazu Soya (off 86') - 5

Soya's form has epitomised the White Swans' season so far - a blistering start, but awful of late.

The usually-crafty striker struggled to escape the attentions of Cunningham and he should have really threatened the Tigers goal more often, especially in the second half when his wingers were whipping in crosses at will.

Finally got his first shot on goal in the 84th minute when he looked to curl one in from the edge of the area but missed the target, and two minutes later, he was unsurprisingly replaced.

Subs

Musashi Okuyama (on 63') - 7.5

It's unclear why the Albirex playmaker-in-chief started the game on the bench but considering the impact he made after coming on, Sugiyama must be regretting that decision.

In 27 minutes on the park, the 20-year-old dictated the tempo of the game and linked up well with Kamimura, slicing open the Balestier defence on numerous occasions.

Yasuhiro Yamakoshi (on 68') - 6

Yamakoshi was brought on to add another dimension to the Albirex attack but failed to get much of a sniff.

Keita Kobayashi (on 86') - N/A

Brought on late in the game with insufficient time to make an impact.

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Balestier Khalsa

Joey Sim - 7

A capable performance from the Tigers custodian who was unlucky to concede Kunihiro's equaliser after it looked like he had kept it out with a fine reflex save.

Unfortunately for Sim, he didn't get enough on it and the ball gradually made its way into the back of the net, but still, a good display.

Yusiskandar Yusop (off 86') - 7

Yusiskandar was steady if unspectacular and did well, particularly considering his direct opponent was pacy Kamimura, who also wasn't afraid to pull out his whole bag of tricks.

Paul Cunningham - 8

At the moment, no one else looks more worthy of the Balestier captaincy. The New Zealander ensured his defence had the right shape by providing a strong vocal presence, and put in a number of crunching tackles, including one on Kamimura that left the crowd wincing.

His no-nonsense approach meant there wasn't any unnecessary pressure piled on his midfielders and fellow defenders.

Jaslee Hatta - 7.5

Despite playing in the unusual role of centre-back, Jaslee acquitted himself well on Friday by making a couple of timely interceptions, none more so than in the 32nd minute when he stuck out a leg just as Soya was looking to race through.

Hamqaamal Shah - 7

Equally comfortable in defence or midfield, Hamqaamal put in an accomplished performance as part of a well-organised back four against the White Swans.

Timed his tackles to perfection but when he did get forward, the 25-year-old did put in a number of dangerous deliveries.

Ruhaizad Ismail - 7.5

Ruhaizad did everything a winger should on Friday, running straight down the line whenever he was presented with an opportunity and stretching the opposition defence wide.

He was extremely unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as well, after conjuring two spectacular efforts. First, he raced down the right before hitting a piledriver just wide in the 42nd minute, before coming even close nine minutes after the break, when he smashed another effort off the crossbar.

Ridwan Jamil (off 80') - 7

Neat and tidy display from Ridwan who kept things simple in the middle of the park.

Goran Subara - 8

The Australian showed just what an asset he is to his coach, seamlessly fitting into the midfield despite spending the entire season playing at centre-back.

Subara kept possession well and put his team on the front foot with incisive passing, and made a couple of excellent late runs into the box that almost resulted in goals. The 25-year-old did later admit to ESPNSTAR.com he does enjoy the occasional run-out in the middle of the park.

Zulkiffli Hassim - 9

Another man-of-the-match performance from Zulkiffli, who has to be one of the league's most dangerous wingers at the moment.

Opened the scoring in the 28th minute when he rifled a shot into the bottom corner, before showing good energy to badger Hotta into giving up possession, a move which led to the Tigers' winner.

Park Kang-jin - 8

The South Korean capped off a fine display with a well-taken goal on the hour mark, finding space in the box and making no mistake from 20 yards out after Zulkiffli had picked him out.

Patrick Paranjody (off 76') - 6

The Singapore international never stopped trying, although it was just one of those nights where not much went right in front of goal.

Looked destined to score in the 37th minute when the ball bounced in front of him at the far post, only to be denied by Ito's last-ditch block, before firing over just after halftime after creating space for himself well with a good run.

Worked his socks off though, and is certainly one for the future.

Subs

Poh Yi Feng (on 76') - 6

Poh didn't get much of the ball after coming on but did well to track his direct opponent as Balestier looked to see out the game.

Tengku Mushadad (on 80') - 6.5

The experienced midfielder provided a calming influence after he replaced Ridwan, something you want when you're defending a slender lead with ten minutes remaining against a side gaining momentum.

Chang Jo-yoon (on 86') - 7

Despite being on the field for just over four minutes, the South Korean youngster showed a couple of nice touches and held up the ball well as his side looked to run the clock down.

It'll be interesting to see how well he does when Stewart hands him his next opportunity.



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