Thursday, September 10, 2015


Balestier Khalsa's Unlikely Title Challenge

When you talk about big clubs in Singapore, to be fair you probably don't but anyway, Tampines Rovers, Warriors and Home United spring to mind. They have after all won 16 of the 19 SLeagues since the league started in 1996.

Chances are you won't mention Balestier Khalsa. In an unfancied league they are an unfancied club lacking a trophy cabinet until a couple of years back but now is the club emerging from the shadows to mount a serious bid for the SLeague title?

A quiet revolution has been taking place round Balestier over the last couple of years and it started under the tutelege of former APIA legend Darren Stewart. The one time Aussie international guided the club to the 2013 Singapore League Cup, their first ever silverware, defeating, nay thrashing, DPMM 4-0 in the final of the much maligned competition.

Stewart left at the end of the season and the club looked to one of their own with the appointment of Marko Kraljevic as coach. The man certainly knew about Asian football when he came in at the start of 2014 having played for Kelantan, Hong Kong Rangers, Balestier Central, Tampines Rovers and Jurong before moving into coaching and had been working with Woodlands Wellington's Prime League team when the call came to take over the hot seat.

In his first season at Tao Payoh the club did something it had never done before; it lifted the Singapore Cup after defeating Home United 3-1 while the goals of Goran Ljubojevic saw the club finish in a respectable 6th place without really threatening the top places.

Ljubojevic's successful spell saw him move on to Sriwijaya while Balestier had the novelty of an AFC Cup campaign to look forward to but a 2-1 win over East Bengal were the only points they managed to pick up in their six games, finishing bottom of the group.

But now they sit third in the SLeague just a few points off the leaders and looking to be in a strong position to mount an assault on the title.

1 - DPMM 17 9 5 3 28-16 32
2 - Albirex Niigata 18 9 4 5 19-11 31
3 - Balestier Khalsa 17 8 5 4 26-19 29
4 - Warriors 18 9 2 7 28-32 29

They have just one defeat in their last 12 games, a 2-1 loss at home to Warriors, but along the way they have picked up three away points against imported powerhouses  DPMM and Albirex Niigata and their last home game before the break for the WCQs saw them defeat the leaders 2-1 with goals from Robert Pericic and Miroslav Kristic. In fact the duo have netted 16 between them to suggest their over reliance last season on Ljubojevic has been put behind them to good effect and with both players on the right side of 30 they still have much to offer.
This Sunday sees Balestier Khalsa take on inconsistent Warriors and if Kristic and Pericic can get among the champions notoriously jittery defence then another three points could well be theirs for the taking. Balestier Khalsa as SLeague title challengers...who would have thought it!

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