Balestier Khalsa vs Tampines Rovers: Battle of the free-scorers
A duel between two teams who have hit goalscoring form.
BALESTIER KHALSA FORM
- Home United 1-3 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
- Balestier 2-2 Hougang United (S.League)
- Warriors FC 1-1 Balestier (S.League)
- Balestier 1-3 Geylang International (S.League)
- Kitchee SC 4-0 Balestier Khalsa (AFC Cup)
TAMPINES ROVERS FORM
- Tampines 6-1 Garena Young Lions (S.League)
- Tampines 4-3 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
- Mohun Bagan 1-2 (AET) Tampines (AFC Cup)
- Warriors FC 0-0 Tampines (S.League)
- Tampines 1-2 Home United (S.League)
One would have laughed if this game was termed a ‘battle of the free-scoring outfits’ earlier in the season, but not now.
Balestier Khalsa’s problems in front of goal have been well documented, with chief forward Miroslav Kristic struggling to replicate his form of last year without his trusty strike partner Robert Pericic.
The Tigers averaged less than a goal per game ealry on, scoring just seven in their first 12 outings – drawing blanks in six of those. However, the arrival of mid-season signing Niko Tokic seems to have transformed their fortunes, recording five goals in their last two matches.
A 2-2 home draw against Hougang United last week wasn't a bad way to start off the second half of the season and they went one better on Tuesday by toppling high-flying Home United 3-1 in their own backyard.
That marked the first time Marko Kraljevic’s men have scored more than two goals in the league this season and enabled them to collect just their second domestic victory in 2016.
Confidence has visibly returned to the Tigers’ camp and they will attempt to extend their three-match unbeaten run in this televised clash.
It is a similar case for Tampines Rovers in the goalscoring department since Akbar Nawas took over from V Sundramoorthy in the coaching hot seat.
After 20 goals in their first 12 league matches, it took just two outings under the former assistant for them to achieve half of that tally.
The Stags scored more than two goals on just three prior occasions in the league, but plundered 10 in their last two outings.
The shackles are now well and truly off for the five-time champions and they will be aiming to continue in similar fashion on the synthetic surface of Jalan Besar.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Tampines 1-0 Balestier (S.League, Apr ’16)
- Balestier 4-3 Tampines (S.League, Nov ’15)
- Tampines 0-0 Balestier (S.League, Aug ’15)
- Tampines 2-2 Balestier (League Cup, Jun ’15)
- Balestier 1-1 Tampines (S.League, Apr ’15)
With this being both teams’ third game in a week, there could be a few changes to the starting line-ups.
For Balestier, defensive midfielder Shah Hirul is a doubt after being carried off early against Home, while it remains to be seen if Croatian defender Emir Lotinac can recover from his rib injury in time to make this game.
Winger Hazzuwan Halim is a definite absentee as he is still recovering from collarbone surgery.
As for Tampines, right-back Noh Rahman and first-choice goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud may continue to miss out due to injury, while playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman remains on the long-term treatment table.
Key Battle: Niko Tokic vs Mustafic Fahrudin
Tokic’s S.League career may be just two matches old, but he has already earned plenty of admirers.
The 1.86m Croatian did not score against Home, but still managed to catch the eye with his intelligent hold-up play and composure in the final third – laying on two good crosses for Zulkiffli Hassim and Jamil Ali to score their goals.
Tasked to neutralise him should be former Singapore international Mustafic, who has been rolling back the years with some immaculate displays at the back for Tampines this season.
It should be a real blockbuster clash between these two.
This looms as an interesting battle between two coaches with distinctly different styles.
Balestier’s Kraljevic usually cuts an animated figure on the sidelines and gesticulates to his players or the officials whenever things do not go his way.
Meanwhile Tampines’ Akbar has been rather calm and collected so far in his two matches in charge, although it can be argued that tougher challenges will test the 41-year-old’s resolve in the near future.
Facts and Figures
- Tampines have the clear upper hand based on previous match-ups. In 43 meetings, they have won 29 times while Balestier have won just seven, with seven draws.
- Recent history is dead even, however, with both sides picking up a win over their past five meetings, along with three draws.
- Tampines have the joint-higest number of goalscorers this season with 10, level with Albirex.
- Balestier are the only team not to be awarded a penalty so far this season.
- Tampines’ Jordan Webb has already recorded more goals than he did in 2015 – seven compared to six last season.
- Both of Jamil Ali’s goals for Balestier have been scored coming off the bench. Only DPMM’s Shahrazen Said has as many as a substitute.
The Tigers have proven to be a tough nut to crack for Tampines in recent times and we see that trend continuing. A 1-1 draw, with Tokic netting once more.
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo