Spirited Balestier get back to winning ways

Balestier Khalsa ended a three-game losing run in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League on Friday with a 2-0 win over Woodlands Wellington.

Football News: Balestier Khalsa

By Gabriel Tan at the Woodlands Stadium

Mid-season signing Zdravko Dragicevic opened the scoring - and his Tigers account - three minutes into the second half when he capitalised on some poor defending to blast home from close range, before captain Paul Cunningham wrapped up the win in the 83rd minute when he rose highest in the Rams area and powered a header into the back of the net.

The win was especially important for Balestier given it revived their ailing title hopes after consecutive defeats to Tampines Rovers, Gombak United and Hougang United, while Woodlands were left still searching for their first win since victories in the opening two games of the campaign.

Given both sides were handed comprehensive 3-0 defeats earlier in the week, they were always going to come out eager to prove a point, and it was the visitors who created the first chance after eight minutes when Cunningham nodded the ball down to Zulkiffli Hassim inside the area, although the 26-year-old took too long to fire away and was eventually crowded out.

Woodlands were then presented a good chance in the 16th minute when they were awarded a freekick on the edge of the area. Hussein Akil looked set to test Zakariah Nerani with a fiercely-hit effort but Jaslee Hatta ensured his goal wasn't threatened by clearing the danger with a brave header.

Three minutes later, another Balestier defender put his body on the line when Syed Thaha cleared a ferocious half-volley by Daniel Hammond off the line, after a corner had been half-cleared straight to the Rams captain.

Despite struggling to score goals all season long, the visitors were looking dangerous down the flanks and came close to scoring in the 24th minute when Ruhaizad Ismail rounded Ahmadulhaq Che Omar after being picked out by a glorious pass from Jaslee Hatta, only to be denied by a terrific covering tackle from Duncan Elias.

Four minutes later, Cunningham saw a well-hit 30 yard freekick kept out by a flying save from Ahmadulhaq, before the Tigers skipper was handed an even better opportunity when his side were awarded a penalty after the Woodlands keeper clattered into the back of Dragicevic inside the box.

However, the ex-Balestier custodian refused to get beaten and denied his former team-mate, although there was slice of fortune as he kept out the New Zealander's effort with his foot after diving the wrong way.

Two minutes before the break, the visitors finally found the back of the net when Zulkiffli glanced home a left-wing cross from Thaha, only for it to be chalked off by the linesman's flag for offside.

Nonetheless, the Tigers were starting to dominate proceedings by now and three minutes after halftime, they finally took the lead when both Hammond and centre-back partner Fabien Lewis tarried over clearing a loose ball, allowing Dragicevic to nip in and blast a shot into the roof of the net.

A minute later, Zulkiffli, who had threatened all evening long, should have doubled his side's lead when he broke the offside trap but failed to beat Ahmadulhaq in a one-on-one situation, before Dragicevic sent a firm header just over the crossbar in the 63rd minute after rising highest to meet a corner from Tengku Mushadad.

To Woodlands' credit, they refused to give in without a fight and carved open a good chance in the 71st minute when Moon Soon-ho threaded a clever pass through to Neil Vanu, but the former Courts Young Lions man lacked the composure to get an early shot away and Balestier eventually dealt with the threat.

12 minutes from time, Dragicevic forced another excellent save from Ahmadulhaq when he let fly with a first-time effort after Goran Subara had knocked the ball down into his path, but there was to be no denying the Tigers seven minutes from time.

Despite sending their big guns up from the back for a freekick, it seemed surprising at first when Park Kang-jin opted to play it short to Dragicevic but the Montenegrin instantly floated a cross onto the head of Subara, who nodded it on for Cunningham to power home with an emphatic header.

With the three points in the bag, Zulkiffli, who was sent off when both teams met earlier this season, then tarnished what had been a fine team - and individual - performance when he received a straight red after getting into a scuffle with Lewis after a late challenge on the wing.

Nonetheless, his dismissal was just a minor blemish on what had been an impressive display from Balestier, one that sees them tentatively leapfrog SAFFC into sixth place.

Woodlands Wellington: Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, Goh Swee Swee, Daniel Hammond, Fabien Lewis, Duncan Elias, Armanizam Dolah (Zulkarnain Malik 83'), Guntur Djafril (Oswind Suriya 63'), Aloysius Yap (Han Yi Guang 73'), Hussein Akil, Moon Soon-ho, Neil Vanu.

Balestier Khalsa: Zakariah Nerani, Yusiskandar Yusop (Poh Yi Feng 73'), Goran Subara, Paul Cunningham, Jaslee Hatta, Ruhaizad Ismail (Patrick Paranjody 88'), Park Kang-jin, Tengku Mushadad (Shafuan Sutomoh 88'), Syed Thaha, Zulkiffli Hassim, Zdravko Dragicevic.

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