Geylang Interational’s change of fortunes in the second half of the S.League continued on Saturday evening with a 3-1 victory over 10-man Balestier Khalsa at Toa Payoh Stadium.
The game was the Eagles’ third win in a row, which helped them to continue climbing up the league table.
While the Tigers took the lead initially through Fadhil Noh’s 21st-minute strike, Branko Cubrilo turned things around for the Eagles with a brace, including a scorcher just before half-time to level matters.
Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani was delighted with the contributions, especially since the striker scored only once previously.
“He’s been working very hard for the team. You look at him basically he’s a hardworking player, his attitude, commitment is superb,” Hasrin told reporters after the match.
“But at the end of the day, he’s a striker and he needs to score.
“That is what is lacking from him, but he did well today. He scored two and we are very happy about that, and for him we are pleased.”
Indeed, without Cubrilo’s contributions, Geylang could easily have been staring at a different result.
The visitors created numerous chances, but failed to take them.
Just three minutes into the game, Carlos Delgado received the ball inside the box, but lost his footing as he was about to pull the trigger.
In the 11th minute, Balestier failed to clear a Gabriel Quak cross to allow Shawal Anuar an opportunity, which goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam duly palmed away.
Balestier took the lead 10 minutes later from a counter-attack, with Fadhil beating Daniel Bennett to Fazli Ayob pass before producing a fine finish.
Geylang could have equalised almost immediately, but Quak fired a glorious chance into the side-netting instead after Delgado’s cross was misjudged by Zaiful.
But just when it looked like the half will end in favour of the hosts, Cubrilo produced a goal out of nowhere.
A long ball from behind was not properly dealt with by the Balestier backline, and the Croatian lashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Balestier started the second half strongly and could have scored twice but Fadhil saw his effort from outside hit the woodwork, while Sadin Samjovic missed the target from close range under no pressure.
Geylang were then awarded a penalty after Quak was dragged back by Nurullah Hussein in the 64th minute. Delgado fired his effort into the top corner but was ordered to retake it, though he made no mistake the second time around to help the visitors take the lead.
Twelve minutes later, Cubrilo ensured of the points for the Eagles.
A Fartiz Hameed cross was headed on by Yuki Ichikawa towards Cubrilo, and the 28-year-old was on hand to stab home his third of the season at the far post.
Balestier’s miseries were compounded when Syafiq Zainal was sent off in the second minute of injury time.
Hasrin believes that his charges have turned a corner with three victories in four games in the second round, after ending the first with a single victory and six draws.
“I think back-to-back victories are better than back-to-back draws,” Hasrin said.
“In the first round, we didn’t get the points we wanted. But I think this time round, hopefully the team is picking up nicely.
“The next game against Albirex (Niigata (S)) will be a very interesting one … hopefully we can carry on.”
As for Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic, he felt the defeat was “frustrating”, especially when he didn’t see much wrong from his side.
“It’s very frustrating. Really, we are trying our best, but things just don’t work,” Kraljevic explained.
“We didn’t have much problems, I didn’t see any problem to change. I think mostly, it’s individual mistakes for us and Geylang have lots of quality and individuals to turn the game.
“It’s tough. We are down here, going down… we need to work harder and stay positive.”