Coming from two goals down to hold Brunei DPMM to a 2-2 draw the last time out, confidence has returned to Balestier Khalsa as they gear up to face Home United.
Trailing 2-0 at the break, fifth-placed Balestier looked dead and buried at Bander Seri Begawan last Saturday. However Marko Kraljevic’s side somehow fought back through goals from Fadli Kamis and Huzaifah Aziz to earn an unlikely point – stemming a three-game losing streak in the process.
The result has lifted spirits in the Tigers camp with third-placed Home United coming up next. Ironically they also pulled off a miraculous comeback show against the Protectors in their last meeting in May.
Hafiz Nor’s early goal looked to have won it for Home then, but Vedran Mesec’s 87th-minute long-range strike and Huzaifah’s superb solo goal a minute into injury time saw Balestier snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at the Singapore National Stadium.
Speaking to FOX Sports Asia, Coach Marko Kraljevic wants his side to retain the same tenacity and resolve – not dissimilar to the manner of his native Croatia’s surprise run into the FIFA World Cup final.
“It’s an amazing achievement in sport. They (Croatia) are the underdogs, but they are playing as a team and have a never-say-die spirit,” said the 52-year-old Singapore Permanent Resident (PR).
“Of course I’ve spoken to my boys about the Croatian spirit; telling them stories of the players and I told them they must dream as well – to play for the National Team, to move out of your comfort zone and go abroad. You see Croatia’s first 11 – they are all playing abroad.
“We played an excellent second half against DPMM. They could not find that something extra to beat us although we played with 10 players (after Huzaifah’s 73rd-minute sending-off). I’m very proud of the boys – they showed the character to come back and get this point.”
Replicating their previous success over Home will be tough though, with the Protectors in good form after an inconsistent start to the season.
An easy 2-0 midweek victory over Young Lions marked their fourth successive clean sheet as they are now breathing down the necks of Tampines Rovers for second spot.
Fatigue could, however, be a factor for Aidil Sharin’s men as this upcoming game against Balestier will be their fifth game in 15 days, while the Tigers played just one game over the same period.
In particular leading forward Shahril Ishak has saw his form dipped, with just one goal in his last six outings and missing a penalty against Young Lions.
“It’ll be another physical game against Balestier and it’s not easy with games every two or three days,” said Aidil. “We need to manage the players’ conditions carefully and the most important thing is for them not to get injured.
“For Shahril, it’s not easy because he’s been playing back-to-back 90 minutes. At age 34, he can still last a full game and that shows he has maintained at a high-level condition.
“For us, we just have to collect as many points as possible and try to put pressure on Tampines.”
TEAM NEWS: Juma’at Jantan and Fazli Ayob remains unavailable for Home due to injuries, while Song Ui-Young is unlikely to be risked for this one. M. Anumanthan will also serve a one-match suspension for accumulating four yellow cards.
However the big news for the Protectors is that new Australian recruit Isaka Cernak is available after clearing the league’s mandatory Yo-yo test, while key centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim will also make his return from suspension.
Balestier’s problems remain with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) victims Sharin Majid and Raihan Raihan ruled out for the rest of the campaign, while foreign duo Vedran Mesec and Keegan Linderdoom are at least two weeks away from full fitness due to ankle injuries.
Winger Afiq Salman Tan is still not fit, while Huzaifah and Hazzuwan Halim are suspended.
The positive is that centre-back Shaqi Sulaiman made the bench against DPMM and could see some minutes in this one.
Home United FC: LWWDW
Balestier Khalsa FC: WLLLD
19/05/18 Balestier 2-1 Home – Singapore Premier League
04/04/18 Home 3-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
20/10/17 Home 2-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
03/07/17 Balestier 1-2 Home – Singapore Premier League
02/05/17 Home 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Suhairi Sabri (Home United FC)
Aidil’s youth policy at Home has unearthed a few gems, with the latest one being Suhairi. The 22-year-old has certainly not looked out of place at this level – not afraid to put in the challenges in the middle of the park and is neat with his passes. His industry is all the more important to the team’s cause, with Anumanthan suspended for this game.
Sanjin Vrebac (Balestier Khalsa FC)
His SPL career is just two games old, but boy – the 18-year-old has already been a revelation for the Tigers with an assist in each outing. Numbers aside, Sanjin has been the driving force in the Tigers’ midfield and there is surely more to come from this Austrian youngster.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Home coach Aidil Sharin: “We could have scored more than two goals against Young Lions, but their goalkeeper (Hairul Syirhan) did well and our players were probably saving their legs in the second half (after two first-half goals) with so many games in a short period.
“He’s (Isaka) an ideal player for us. He’s quick and he’s not afraid to take players on, which is how Home United likes to play. We want our attacking players to run at defenders and he certainly fits the bill.”
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic: “We beat Home United in May and hopefully that can happen again. We want to keep moving to the next step… With eight games to go, anything is possible and hopefully we can still finish in the top four.
“Sanjin’s a very good player. He joined us two weeks ago, but played immediately and is gelling quite well with the teammates. The thing about Balestier is that it’s all young players here. They have the same thinking in life, in music… And he speaks English well so it’s easy to adapt. As for Dusan (Marinkovic), he came on in the second half against DPMM (for his first appearance) and did well. Slowly, he will play more as well.”