Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Opponent Watch: Balestier Khalsa

Rock solid. That would be a good word to describe our next opponent's - Balestier Khalsa - defence. Some would say that the best defense would be a good offense, but that is not the case for the Toa Payoh based outfit, who have scored much lesser goals than others but are perched prettily in second place behind league leaders Albirex Niigata (S).

Promotional banner for this Sunday's match at Toa Payoh
Photo Credit: Balestier Khalsa FC Website

The main reason for Balestier's dream start to the 2012 campaign must be attributed to their seemingly infallible defence, which has been stingy to opposing defences so far. Club captain and centre back Paul Cunningham has been outstanding for the Tigers so far and the 25 year old Kiwi has led Balestier to three clean sheets out of a possible four.

Since their goalless draw on opening day with Home United, Balestier has successfully scored in every game in the run up to our next fixture away at Toa Payoh on this coming Sunday. Although the Tigers have only managed to score one goal in each game, these solitary goals proved to be crucial as they propelled the Tigers to victories over Tampines Rovers and Hougang United.

Paul Cunningham has been flawless in defence for Balestier so far.
Photo Credit: Yeo's Great Eastern S-League

The only team which managed to put the ball into Balestier's net so far is Gombak United, in a tight game which saw the on-form Mustaqim Mansur scoring on 76 minutes to cancel out Balestier midfielder Park Kang-Jin's goal on 12 minutes in front of a large crowd of 2386 spectators at Toa Payoh two weeks ago. (Korean Park, like our very own Moon Soon-Ho, was part of the Super Reds team who played in the S-League between 2007 to 2009).

As such, Balestier's current record stands at 3 goals for and one goal against after four matches so far. In comparison, our Rams have scored one more at 4 goals for but we have also let in more at 6 goal against us. We have also lost 2 games already while Balestier still enjoy an unbeaten record up till today, allowing them to be honoured together with the other unbeaten teams in the league at this moment - Brunei DPMM FC, Home United and Harimau Muda.

After letting in a total of six goals in our last three matches, we will need to step up our game against the Tigers. It would be foolish to think that Balestier would play a defensive game based on the low number of goals they have scored so far. Our defenders will need to contain the Balestier attack, particularly the skillful Zulkiffli Hassim, who turned Hougang United defender and captain Lau Meng Meng inside out before scoring a scorcher, which was later named the Goal of the Week.

Daniel Hammond must rally the defence to perform better after last week's result at Tampines.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

Apart from the need to win this fixture to get our season back on track after 2 consecutive losses, this game will be of much interest to watch due to the "homecoming" of  four Rams who were decked out in the red of Balestier's colours last season. The quartet of Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, K. Sathiaraj, Armanizam Dolah and Shamsurin Abdul Rahman will certainly be looking to do well against the Tigers on Sunday, and Goh Swee Swee will be looking forward to the Toa Payoh encounter as well, as the former Young Lion also played for the Tigers in 2010 before moving north to join Woodlands in 2011.

Armanizam Dolah (second from left) playing in the red of Balestier back in 2011.
Photo Credit: Lioneldude Photography

With so many former Tigers now playing for the Rams, it is set to be an electrifying affair. It will also be a reunion of sorts for gaffer Salim Moin (cue the "One Salim Moin" song) as he returns to central Singapore to face the club he managed last season. 

Former tiger Sathi will need to guard his flank well to ensure we have a chance against high-flying Balestier.
Photo Credit: Andrew Him (The Black Sheep)

If fervent home support is based on attendance alone, Balestier must then be one of the best supported clubs on the island. Getting a crowd of some 2,300 supporters for a home game is no mean feat. The Black Sheep's creative director, Hussain Razzak, who has been a Rams supporter for the past decade notes that the Balestier faithful will be a force to reckon with since they are currently on a good run.

Balestier fans during the Balestier - Gombak match.
The Black Sheep will be up against them this Sunday and we aim to be in full voice.
Photo Credit: Yeo's Great Eastern S-League

Let's face it. We will need a win in this fixture in order to regain our foothold and not slip further down the table. Our last two matches have seen us fall five notches from second to seventh place - if we have any intention of finishing the season in the top half of the table, we will need to start winning matches again.

Right now, there couldn't be a better scenario to think of than to face Balestier in our next fixture. The Tigers' defence have shown that they have been hard to break down as a unit, but this resolution has also been displayed by our defenders prior to the Tampines game. We need to find that confidence once again and go out with all guns blazing to win this game. Yes, it will be tough, but victory at Toa Payoh will see Woodlands leapfrogging past Balestier in the league standings. And this, I hope, will be the players' motivation to go out all focused and fired up for this match. Never Surrender!

Sparks will fly on Sunday. Will you be there to witness it?

Regardless of the size of Balestier's home crowd, we will match them voice for voice,
volume for volume. NEVER SURRENDER!
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

Match Information
Date: Sunday, 18th March, 2012 (7.45pm kick-off)
Venue: Toa Payoh Stadium
Tickets: $5.00 (Adult), $ 1.00 (Student)

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