Balestier blow Young Lions away in bottom-of-table clash

Balestier Khalsa’s set-piece prowess proved too much for the Garena Young Lions to handle on Friday night as they cruised to a 3-1 victory at the Jalan Besar Stadium. 

Both teams had scored the worst and second-worst goal tallies in the S.League heading into the game, but it was the Tigers who found their teeth in front of goal with a three-goal flurry in the first 25 minutes.

Niko Tokic broke the deadlock on eight minutes, before Miroslav Kristic and Fadli Kamis scored from an indirect free-kick and corner respectively for a commanding advantage.

The Young Lions had no answer to high balls in the box and head coach Patrick Hesse said he could not “accept” their vulnerability at dead-ball situations, having specifically worked on combating them.

“We showed it to the players, that they must be careful and not to make a lot of fouls,” he said. “They have to be strong when defending in such instances, to stick tightly to their men.. They are young players, but they must learn quickly.”

Things might have been different had Fareez Farhan converted his one-on-one opportunity moments before Balestier scored, but he was denied by Zaiful Nizam.

Within 15 seconds, Shah Hirul had set Fadhil Noh racing down the right to cross for Tokic to bullet in a header from six yards.

It was 2-0 on 19 minutes as Kristic headed in Fazli Ayob’s precise free-kick, while the latter’s corner six minutes later took a fortunate ricochet off Fadli to loop in from close range.

It was Fadli’s fourth of the season and made him the top-scoring defender in the league – remarkable given that he had scored only one professional goal before this season.

Hesse lamented their disastrous start to the game, with 12 of the 44 goals they have conceded in the league now having come within the first 20 minutes – the highest of any team by far.

“I never imagined that we could play so worse (sic); before half-time, it was very, very bad,” he bluntly stated. “For the first 30 minutes, we could not get into the rhythm of the game.”

However, he did point out a mitigating factor – the Young Lions have not trained together in the last five weeks as they have sat out the Singapore Cup and League Cup competitions.

His counterpart, Marko Kraljevic, was a much happier man as they picked up their first victory in six games and first league win since mid-June.

He admitted he was “worried” about playing the Young Lions as they had done well in their last two games on the artificial turf and hailed a “great” win.

“It was not easy,” he said after notching only their third win of the season. “The boys worked hard and the first half was excellent, while we weren’t really under pressure in the second half.”

The win movd Balestier five points clear of the bottom-placed Young Lions, who have only two wins to their name, though they are still four points behind seventh-placed Warriors FC.

The Croatian was “very disappointed” at their failure to keep a first clean sheet in 14 games though, having seemingly done enough as Christopher van Huizen and Ryan Syaffiq each hit the woodwork for the Young Lions.

But in what looked like a very soft call, referee Sukhbir Singh awarded a penalty for Fazli’s nudge on Joshua Pereira in the 86th minute and Adam Swandi calmly stroked in his first goal of the season.

“We have improved a lot in attacking [as compared to earlier in the season] and having conceded in many games, I was looking forward to keeping a clean sheet,” Kraljevic said.

“We were unlucky but at the end of the day, I think the defence still did a good job.”