Ten-man Balestier end Albirex unbeaten run

Albirex Niigata's 11-game unbeaten run in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League was ended on Sunday after they fell to a 1-0 loss to ten-man Balestier Khalsa.

Kim beats Ito to the ball and fires home!

By Gabriel Tan at the Toa Payoh Stadium

Despite having to play almost an hour a man down after Zulkiffli Hassim received his marching orders in the 32nd minute, the Tigers were more than up for the challenge and scored what proved to be the winner 13 minutes after the break when Kim Min-ho volleyed home from close range.

The result, which comes as a huge blow to Albirex's title hopes as they are now five points behind leaders Tampines Rovers, was also the Japanese outfit's first defeat in the league since April, when they were beaten 2-1 by the same opposition at the Jurong East Stadium.

Balestier, on the other hand, were looking to build on last week's 2-0 win over Courts Young Lions, which had enhanced their hopes of a top-five finish, and it was them who got off to a brighter start.

Three minutes in, Ruhaizad Ismail latched onto a long diagonal ball by Paul Cunningham and burst into the box, before going down under a challenge from Takeshi Ito. However, referee P. Jeevanathan was unmoved and waved away the appeals.

Seven minutes later, the hosts once again made their way in behind the opposition backline when Park Kang-jin played a delightful through-ball to Zulkiffli down the left, although the attack was halted by the linesman's flag just as the winger fired a shot off target.

Watch: Highlights: Balestier 1-0 Albirex Niigata... More Videos

While Albirex have been praised all season long for their free-flowing style of play, they were looking uncharacteristically lacklustre in all areas of the park, with the Tigers dominating proceedings.

Nonetheless, the Japanese outfit showed what they were capable of in the 27th minute when an intricate passing move led to Masatake Sato picking up possession on the right side of the box. He proceeded to lay the ball back to the edge of the area, where Atsushi Shimono could only manage to direct a fierce shot straight at Zakariah Nerani.

The match then took a twist two minutes after the half-hour mark when Zulkiffli, who had only just received a caution for deliberate handball, got into a tussle on the ground with Musashi Okuyama and kicked out as his opponent, leaving Jeevanathan with no other option but to give him a second yellow.

But despite the numerical deficit, Balestier continued to look the more spirited of the two sides and were unlucky not to take the lead 11 minutes into the second half. Picking up possession on the left, Park forced his past Yuki Ichikawa and into the area before cutting the ball back to substitute Patrick Paranjody, only for him to send a powerful drive against the crossbar.

But there was to be no denying the Tigers two minutes later when Tengku Mushadad floated a freekick to the edge of the box, where centre-back Goran Subara proceeded to flick it into the danger zone. Cunningham, who had also ventured forward for the set-piece, was quickest to the ball and guided it on to Kim, who proceeded to lash a volley past the onrushing Takuma Ito.

Stunned at going behind, Albirex finally got into their game going and had a good chance in the 69th minute when they broke on the counter, with Yasuhiro Yamakoshi leading the charge by going on a penetrating run through the middle. The Japanese striker did well to thread a neat ball through to Sho Kamimura, but Zakariah was quick off his line and dealt with the threat by smothering bravely at his opponent's feet.

Another opportunity for the White Swans went begging in the 78th minute when Kunihiro Yamashita leapt highest in the box to meet a Masatake Sato cross but headed just over, before the latter had Zakariah scrambling with a snapshot from 20 yards that sailed just wide of the far post three minutes later.

Four minutes from time, the visitors mustered one final attempt to steal a share of the spoils when Sato went on a good run down the right and played the ball back across the face of goal, where it eventually made its way to the unmarked Okuyama after a clever dummy from Yamakoshi. However, with the entire goal to aim for, the Albirex playmaker somehow managed to hit a tame shot straight at Zakariah, who didn't put a foot wrong all game long.

In the end, the Tigers were left to celebrate another impressive victory, while their opponents departed the Toa Payoh Stadium aware that the title race had taken a huge swing in Tampines' favour.

In Sunday's other game, Hougang United and Gombak United played out a 0-0 draw at the Hougang Stadium.

Balestier Khalsa: Zakariah Nerani, Yusiskandar Yusop, Goran Subara, Paul Cunningham, Syed Thaha, Shafuan Sutohmoh (Hamqaamal Shah 39'), Tengku Mushadad, Park Kang-jin, Ruhaizad Ismail (Patrick Paranjody 54'), Zulkiffli Hassim, Kim Min-ho.

Albirex Niigata: Takuma Ito, Yuki Ichikawa (Hidekazu Yamamoto 67'), Kunihiro Yamashita, Norihiro Kawakami, Takeshi Ito, Shuhei Hotta, Atsushi Shimono, Musashi Okuyama, Masatake Sato (Keita Kobayashi 87'), Sho Kamimura, Yasuhiro Yamakoshi.

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