Despite Jonathan Behe grabbing two goals, Warriors FC’s bid for five straight wins in a season since 2011 was thwarted by Balestier Khalsa as the two sides played out a 2-2 draw in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) at Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday evening.
Warriors led twice through Behe’s strikes, but Balestier came back on both occasions with Fadli Kamis and Nurullah Hussein in each half to get a share of the spoils.
The result meant Warriors stayed in fifth, two points clear of Balestier and with a game in hand.
After a turgid opening 20 minutes, the game gradually burst into life as the visiting Warriors broke the deadlock via a clever free-kick routine in the 28th minute.
With the Balestier defence possibly expecting a direct shot on goal, Ignatius Ang caught them off-guard with a simple lofted ball over the wall for Behe.
The latter took two touches to steady himself, before coolly slotting past the onrushing Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
That goal woke Balestier up from their slumber as they found the equaliser 12 minutes later after a series of corners.
With Behe failing to get enough distance on his attempted headed clearance off Hazzuwan Halim’s inswinging corner, Linderboom played a superb ball back into the danger area with his weaker right foot.
Fadli was the beneficiary as he held off the challenge of Ho Wai Loon to nod home at the far post for his fourth goal of the campaign and level matters for the Warriors.
It was all square at the break, with both sides not able to settle into a rhythm of play until the latter stages of the game.
Warriors would retake the lead in the 71st minute after a good move that involved two of their substitutes in the build-up.
Receiving Firdaus Kasman’s slide-rule pass, Fadhil Noh whipped in a teasing right-wing cross which Behe superbly steered home from eight yards out for his 17th goal of the season.
However, Balestier would restore parity again just five minutes later via the unlikeliest of scorers.
Benefitting from Hazzuwan’s lay-off after a Huzaifah Aziz long throw into the area, Nurullah was allowed the luxury of space on the edge of the box to lash in a superb grass-cutter with his weaker right foot that flew past the despairing dive of Warriors custodian Mukundan Maran.
That was the 25-year-old’s first-ever professional goal and it would eventually earn his side a point.
Warriors did have some chances to win it late on, but Fadhil saw his shot from a tight angle denied by Zaiful before Firdaus lashed a volley over.
Both sides will now turn their attentions to the first leg of their RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final ties.
Warriors take on Brunei DPMM in the first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium next Thursday, while Balestier visit Bedok Stadium to face Geylang International on Wednesday, 29 August.
What they said:
Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “I’m really happy with another comeback. It shows the mental strength and belief of the boys. Keegan’s return is helping us, but it’s the rest who are scoring.
“Today is different for Nurullah because he’s playing holding midfield. I told him ‘don’t go into the box, just stay outside the box’. He’s confident on the ball and he can shoot. It’s not easy for him after a year’s lay-off and hopefully that’s not his last goal!”
Warriors FC Head Coach Mirko Grabovac: “I was disappointed with the two goals that we conceded. The first goal – we did many set pieces to prepare for their aerial threat but we still conceded. The second goal – we must defend as a team, we must be faster to block the shot from outside the box.
“But a draw is a fair result. After 4 wins, today we can’t win – that’s football. Now we have the Singapore Cup coming up, but that’s difficult because all the teams have ambitions to win it.”
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Shaqi Sulaiman, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Sufianto Salleh, Nurullah Hussein (Khalili Khalif 81’), Fariz Faizal (Zakir Samsudin 73’), Huzaifah Aziz, Keegan Linderboom, Hazzuwan Halim, Noor Akid Nordin (Vrebac Sanjin 58’)
Warriors FC: Mukundan Maran (GK), Emmeric Ong, Delwinder Singh, Kento Fukuda (C), Ismadi Mukhtar, Ho Wai Loon, Ammirul Emmran, Nur Luqman (Firdaus Kasman 65’), Sahil Suhaimi (Fadhil Noh 46’), Ignatius Ang (Khairul Nizam 79’), Jonathan Behe