Zaiful Nizam makes Suzuki Cup statement to help Balestier past Young Lions

Captain Zaiful Nizam overshadowed Keegan Linderboom’s goal-scoring return from injury with a goalkeeping masterclass in Balestier Khalsa’s 1-0 win over Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) at Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday evening.

Linderboom was making his first start in almost two months and saw 45 minutes of action to score a decisive header that turned out to be the winner.

But apart from Linderboom’s goal which came in the 37th minute after he nodded in Hazzuwan Halim’s cross at the far post, Balestier barely had any real chance of note and coaches from both teams noted that Zaiful was the key difference today.

“It’s not surprising, Zaiful is working hard and this clean sheet did not happen by chance. He is the man of the match, he saved a few chances and gave us our clean sheet,” Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic said.

Young Lions Head Coach Fandi Ahmad added: “Zaiful was the man for Balestier. He saved three point-blank chances, so you can’t ask for more from my team. The boys came out strongly (after conceding) so I am very disappointed and sad for them.”

Zaiful was called upon as early as the fifth minute, palming away Irfan Fandi’s goal-bound free-kick that was destined for the top corner.

He was troubled again just two minutes past the hour mark after Rusyaidi Salime directed a deadball onto the crossbar. The rebound then fell for Hami Syahin to thump in a bullet-header at point-blank range but the Singapore international reacted quickly to parry his effort.

Ikhsan Fandi would also be denied by the shot-stopper in the 73rd minute, with a well-taken strike heading for the top corner only for Zaiful to tip it away.

This superb display by Zaiful continued through till the end, as he denied Ikhsan and Irfan Fandi from close range in the 85th and 86th minute to give the Tigers their first win in eight games.

Getting only his third clean sheet of the season, Zaiful was obviously delighted but he stressed that he is only getting started, with the Suzuki Cup approaching soon.

“If you looked at the scoreline, it was 1-0 and anything can happen so I needed to concentrate and do my best. The Suzuki Cup is coming up and this is part of my preparation for it and that is to do well for the club,” he said.

“It’s not easy this season — all the teams have been scoring more goals instead of behaving defensively. It’s not easy to get a clean sheet, so this is a bonus for me after so long.”

Both teams will play again three days later, Balestier taking on Hougang United FC while Young Lions will host Brunei DPMM.

What they said

Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic:
“It was a very hard game. We have not won in a long time and playing against the Young Lions, who have been playing well and are in confidence after beating Tampines, was very hard.

“This win is very important for us to build up confidence for the next game.”

Young Lions Head Coach Fandi Ahmad: “First half, we were lethargic and slow. There were a lot of ball watching.

“This is a huge set-back for us, I am very upset because we deserved at least a point. We have to learn and try to motivate the boys for the next game.”

Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK) (C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulai, Nurisham Jupri, Nurullah Hussein, Hazzuwan Halim, Huzaifah Aziz, Fariz Faizal (Noor Akid Nordin75’), Ahmad Syahir, Keegan Linderboom (Zakir Samsudin 71’), Sanjin Vrebac (Sufianto Salleh 82’)

Young Lions: Zharfan Rohaizad (GK), Joshua Pereira (C), Ikhsan Fandi, Zulqarnaen Suzliman, Syahrul Sazali, Hami Syahin, Irfan Fandi, R.Aaravin, Rusyaidi Salime (Prakash Raj 66’), Jacob Mahler, Ifwat Ismail (Haiqal Pashia 53’)