Hit by a number of key departures, can Balestier Khalsa's class of 2016 continue to punch above their weight and challenge the big boys under Marko Kraljevic once more?
Balestier 2016 S.League Squad
- Zaiful Nizam
- Daniel Ong
- Ameerul Shafiq
- Fadli Kamis
- Sheikh Abdul Hadi
- Gary Loo
- Hanafi Salleh
- Emir Lotinac
- Ho Wai Loon
- Ahmad Syahir
- Fazli Ayob
- Hazzuwan Halim
- Shah Hirul
- Jamil Ali
- Zulkiffli Hassim
- Danial Mazlan
- Miroslav Kristic
- Robert Pericic
- Fadhil Noh
- Syafiq Zainal
The scripts in both matches were uncannily similar – not playing particularly well but managing to produce the goods when it mattered.
The two victories came via late Robert Pericic goals, who was expertly teed up by his trusted strike partner Miroslav Kristic on both occasions.
That was followed by a rather epic and telling post-match press conference with then-Young Lions coach Juergen Raab.
“I see one team trying to play football and one team who doesn’t want to,” said the German. “(Balestier) only try to prevent, play the long ball and hope for mistakes.
“If teams play like this, it is not in the interest of the improvement of Singapore football.”
Yes, their ‘route one’ style of football that makes use of Pericic and Kristic’s height in attack may not be that pretty to the eyes, but the Tigers couldn’t care less.
With just four games to conclude the season, they found themselves level on points with leaders Brunei DPMM, albeit having played two games more.
Kraljevic’s men eventually ran out of steam and finished fourth, but it was quite some feat for a club of Balestier’s stature to be in the thick of the title race.
Moving on into 2016, it will be intriguing to see if the Toa Payoh-based club can conjure up more of the same.
The task is certainly not easy, considering they lost the services of a number of key players. Centre-back Igor Cerina has moved to Malaysia Premier League side Sabah FA, while midfield hard man Poh Yifeng and effervescent winger Ignatius Ang jumped ship to Warriors FC.
While clubs like Tampines Rovers and Home United have made the headlines for their key signings, Kraljevic has quietly gone about his business at Balestier.
There have no real blockbuster signings, just a host of players who have competed in the S.League for at least a couple of years.
Former Young Lions trio Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Gary Loo will help shore up the backline, while Jamil Ali, Fazli Ayob and ex-LionsXII man Syafiq Zainal will provide more attacking options down the flanks.
Midfield enforcer Shah Hirul has also joined from Geylang International to help fill Poh’s void, while goalkeeper Daniel Ong returns from the Warriors to provide back up to first choice goalkeeper Zaiful NIzam.
Unlike some clubs that have undergone almost complete clear-outs, a number of players have been retained and the Tigers faithful should be happy that the foreign legion of Emir Lotinac, Pericic and Kristic is staying.
The latter two were instrumental in their success last term with their almost-telepathic understanding upfront resulting in 33 goals between them.
Last but not least, young talents like Hazzuwan Halim and Danial Mazlan have also been promoted from the Prime League.
While it looks like a rather handy squad, question marks still remain on whether they have the strength in depth to last the distance and compete with the more illustrious casts at Tampines Rovers and Home United.
The onus is on Kraljevic to work his magic again, just as he has done for the past two seasons.
FFT'S S.LEAGUE PREDICTION: 8th
They punched above their weight last season but the lack of quality in their squad this time around may seem them struggle to keep up with the big guns.
KEEP CLICKING BELOW FOR OUR COMPREHENSIVE BALESTIER KHALSA PREVIEW
COACH CORNER – Marko Kraljevic
Unfancied Balestier Khalsa mounted a surprise title challenge last term under astute tactician Marko Kraljevic. So what is his secret to success? Click here to find out.
STAR MAN – Miroslav Kristic
Fresh from his 23-goal haul that powered Balestier to their unlikely title challenge in 2015, Miroslav Kristic is raring to go again and fire his side to more glory.
For more about one of Balestier's key men, click here.
VIEW FROM THE FANS
Unable to make the cut for Balestier's senior team after turning out for their Prime League side, he went on to become the club's 12th man in the stands.
Now, he continues to support the team ahead of what he anticipates to be a difficult season. Read about his journey here.
YOUNG GUN – Hazzuwan Halim
Looking to provide that spark of inspiration for his otherwise workman-like side, Hazzuwan Halim is seeking to use his performances for Balestier as a platform to earn a Singapore call-up.
Find out more about his targets for this season right here.
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