Balestier valiant in Albirex defeat

For the second game running, Balestier Khalsa dominated their opponents but were ultimately handed a 1-0 defeat by Albirex Niigata (S) on Tuesday.

The two strikers battle it out...
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Reporting from the Toa Payoh Stadium

Although they looked the more likely of the two sides to score throughout the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League clash at the Toa Payoh Stadium, the Tigers failed to convert the chances they created and were made to pay in the 80th minute when Shingo Suzuki struck the winner for the visitors.

The loss comes just four days after they were beaten 1-0 by DPMM FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium despite dominating proceedings, and although Balestier boss Darren Stewart was pleased with his players' efforts in that outing, he conceded they been too tentative in the start to the match.

However, there were no such problems on Tuesday as his charges showed plenty of initiative from the opening whistle, creating their first chance after three minutes when Ruhaizad Ismail broke free down the right and fired in a cross that Kento Fukuda had to clear before it could reach the waiting Zulkiffli Hassim.

Five minutes later, they threatened the opposition goal once more when Syed Thaha made an interception near the halfway line and headed straight for goal, before unleashing a 25-yard shot that had Hiroaki Hara scrambling before sailing wide.

Buoyed by their strong start, the hosts continued to do more of the attacking and Qiu Li had a good effort in the 25th minute when he spotted Hara off his line and looked to curl one into the top corner, only to see it sail just over.

Right on the half-hour mark, the Singapore international came even closer with another shot from the edge of the area; firing in a ferocious effort that had Hara beaten all ends up but came smashing back off the post.

Three minutes later, Albirex finally threatened for the first time when Suzuki floated a freekick into the box that Zaiful Nizam - under pressure from Kazuki Sakamoto - could only punch straight to Fukuda. But with the whole goal to aim for, the centre-back was only able to steer his header off target.

Apart from that one chance, it continued to be one-way traffic and the visitors' goal came under threat again just before the break when Zulkiffli played a searching ball to pick out Ruhaizad's darting run, only for his fellow winger to fail to connect with his header from four yards out.

Hara, who has been in good form all season long, continued to be busy after the break and showed clean hands to gather a deflected strike from Qiu in the 52nd minute, before producing a stunning fingertip save 16 minutes later to keep out a low curling effort from Tengku Mushadad, who had carved out a shooting chance for himself after forcing his way past a couple of challenges.

Nonetheless, Balestier's good work was nearly undone in the 71st minute when Bruno Castanheira raced through on goal but was obstructed by Zaiful just as he was about to break into the area. But fortunately for them, referee Farhad Mohd chose to only give him a caution and awarded the White Swans a freekick, must to the frustration of their coach Koichi Sugiyama.

From the resultant freekick, Suzuki hit a good curling effort but it sailed over the bar, and two minutes later, Hara was called into action again when he produced a brilliant save to keep our a rasping drive from Qiu.

And ten minutes from time, his heroic display in goal was matched by Suzuki, who received the ball from Bruno on the edge of the area and proceeded to curl a left-footed effort past Zaiful and into the bottom corner to hand Albirex the lead.

Bruno then wasted two excellent chances in injury-time to seal the win, forcing Zaiful into a smart save at his near post after skipping past Tengku and firing in a shot from a tight angle, before blazing over from four yards after Yoshinaga Arima had picked him out with a neat cross.

Just like they did against DPMM, the Tigers threw centre-back Obadin Aikhena forward late on in a desperate bid to get an equaliser but it proved to be in vain, as Suzuki's strike and Hara's heroics handed their opponents the three points.

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam, Yusiskandar Yusop, Obadin Aikhena, Jaslee Hatta (Ridwan Jamil 87'), Syed Thaha, Tengku Mushadad, Kim Min-ho, Park Kang-jin, Ruhaizad Ismail (Patrick Paran 66'), Zulkiffli Hassim (Jung Hee-bong 82'), Qiu Li.

Albirex Niigata (S): Hiroaki Hara, Yuki Ichikawa, Kento Fukada, Masahiro Ishikawa, Itsuki Yamada, Shuhei Hotta, Takeshi Nagasawa, Kento Nagasaki, Bruno Castanheira, Shingo Suzuki, Kazuki Sakamoto (Yoshinaga Arima 89')

Attendance: 557

Image courtesy of Balestier Khalsa FC (Andrew Lim)

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