Stewart hails gritty Balestier victory

Balestier Khalsa coach Darren Stewart hailed his players' spirit after they overcame an early red card to beat Albirex Niigata 1-0 on Sunday evening.

Kamimura proving a real handful for the Tigers!

By Gabriel Tan

Balestier picked up all three points in their Great Eastern-YEO's S.League clash with the White Swans at the Toa Payoh Stadium courtesy of Kim Min-ho's 58th-minute close range strike, despite having to play with ten men for almost an hour after Zulkiffli Hassim received his marching orders in the 32nd minute.

The victory was also the Tigers' sixth win in nine league games on home soil this season and Stewart was understandably delighted with the way his side picked up all three points against the odds.

"It was a good performance from the boys," he said. "We really kept our discipline and our shape and that was important.

"We tried to press them early on and we did that well, but obviously once we had a player sent off we had to defend deeper.

"We were still confident we could get something out of the game and we did in the end."

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

However, Zulkiffli's red card means he will now miss their next game against SAFFC on Thursday, along with midfield general Park Kang-jin, who picked up his fourth yellow of the campaign.

Experienced defender Jaslee Hatta will also be absent due to a hairline fracture on his left foot and while Stewart admits his playing stocks are being stretched, he is backing his Prime League players to fill the void.

"We'll be down to the bare minimum for our next game," the Australian added. "But there's a reason why [assistant coach] Kevin [Wee's] Prime League side is top of the league.

"I'll be looking to pinch a few of his boys and hopefully they'll step up to the task."

Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama conceded his players had struggled to break down the Tigers' resilient defence, although he hinted he was unhappy at what he claimed were roughhouse tactics from their opponents.

"We must accept this result," he said. "Balestier had ten players behind the ball and we were unable to play our football.

"Balestier's defence was very good, as it has been this season, and they prevented us many shooting opportunities.

"But we play fairly every time, even today [Sunday]. I'm not too sure if I can say the same for Balestier."

But despite now being five points behind leaders Tampines Rovers, Sugiyama refused to concede his side's title hopes were over.

"I do not like to think about the title race," he added. "I only want our team to look at one game at a time."

Balestier are back in action on Thursday when they take on SAFFC, while Albirex entertain Hougang United on the same night.

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