Irfan Fandi nets brace as Home rout Balestier
But he had better luck in front of goal at the Toa Payoh Stadium on only his second start for the Protectors since joining them this season, having been affected by National Service (NS) enlistment issues.
Miscommunication between goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam and his defender Sheikh Abdul Hadi saw the latter head a long punt away from the former, inexplicably leaving Irfan with an easy tap-in to make it 2-0 on 23 minutes.
Irfan’s second was also laid on a plate for him, Song Ui-young squaring from the left for another simple finish to give Home a 4-0 lead on the stroke of half-time.
Head coach Aidil Sharin was delighted with the teenager’s performance, which ensured the absence of star striker Ken Ilsø due to injury was not missed.
“I'm totally very happy and impressed with him,” he told reporters. “Honestly he doesn’t train with us [much] because of NS commitments… but I have confidence in him and definitely, he deserved to get the two goals with all his hard work and the determination he has shown to [try and] get into the first eleven.”
The victory put the uniformed giants in pole position to qualify for the AFC Cup next year as the second-best placed local team, as they displaced Hougang United from fourth spot.
But Aidil insisted he “still is not thinking” about continental competition and urged his players to focus on winning their last two matches.
“Of course, every coach dreams to play [in it] but let’s take it game by game,” he said. “We aim for three points [against Albirex Niigata (S) next]; then after that we can move on against Geylang International, then we can talk about AFC Cup.”
He did lavish praise on the rest of his team as well for a blistering display that saw them net five goals for the second consecutive game, having thumped the Garena Young Lions 5-2 two weeks ago.
Song broke the deadlock with a fine glancing header off Ambroise Begue’s wicked free-kick on 12 minutes, while Irfan’s double sandwiched captain Juma’at Jantan’s deft close-range finish off a Faris Ramli cross on the half-hour.
It was the latter’s second goal of the campaign - the last time the 32-year-old full-back scored more than once in a season was back in 2009.
Substitute Ang Zhi Wei then came off the bench for his first appearance of an injury-plagued season to rifle in a fifth with his first involvement within 30 seconds.
“We know to come here [and win] was not going to be easy,” noted Aidil, whose side had not beaten Balestier in their last four meetings. “Definitely, when you score more goals, the confidence is going to be high but let’s not forget we got clean sheet today, which is also very good for the back-line.”
Defence proved to be the Tigers’ downfall as they went a 22nd consecutive match in all competitions without a clean sheet and Marko Kraljevic rued a “disappointing” night.
“There were individual mistakes from some players and when you lose 2-0, 3-0, it’s very difficult to come back and it was very bad for us,” the Croat noted.
“The miscommunication [with the second goal] killed us, but I think [overall] we didn’t defend well; that was our first problem, we gave them too much space and they were the better team today.”
Kraljevic did point to injuries as mitigating factors, with key striking pair Miroslav Kristic and Niko Tokic ruled out along with playmaker Fazli Ayob, while Nurullah Hussein and Zulkiffli Hassim were suspended.
Balestier are condemned to finishing second-last now and Kraljevic hopes they can at least end the season on a high.
“This is our job [to bounce back], we need to ask ourselves what we did wrong and try to see what we can do,” he said. “Last two games of the season, but we have nothing to lose also; we will go out and enjoy the game, but we need to improve our defending.”