League Cup: Geylang repeat Tigers-killing feat
Photography courtesy of Geylang United
Geylang United gave their small but loyal group of fans something to cheer about on Monday evening when they defeated a jaded-looking Balestier Khalsa side in their StarHub League Cup Group B match at Toa Payoh Stadium.
The 3-1 scoreline, it must be noted, was not in the least flattering for a dominant Eagles outfit on the occasion.
At no stage could the Tigers get a foothold on the game, with key defender Goran Subara unable to play after requiring an MRI scan following a heavy knock a couple of days earlier.
As a consequence of this defeat, Balestier were relegated to playing in the plate series, having also lost in their first game against Albirex Niigata (Singapore).
“We were flat tonight, it was not a good performance from us at all,” said their coach Darren Stewart when it was all over.
“In hindsight I should have started with more fresh players; I underestimated how tired the boys would be after the Albirex game. But all credit to Geylang, as they were fit and rested and on their game.”
Geylang had beaten the Tigers by the same score earlier in the season in a Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League game, and that was something that helped give the Eagles and their coach Kanan Vedhamuthu extra confidence going into this game.
The former national athlete did admit, however, that the Balestier lineup he faced was different from the one he had predicted.
“I expected Goran to play; their defence is generally very strong,” he noted.
“But I also thought we could catch them out down the left-hand side, and that’s how we scored at least one of our goals in the first half.
“All of the foreigners played very well, especially Stefan (Milojevic), who played the balls through for our first and third goals. And our first goal was a brilliant strike by (Jozef) Kaplan.
“We could not play Mun (Seung Man) as he told me before the game that he had a sore eye, so I included Panuwat (Hengthaveephokasub) on the bench. The Prime League boys did very well and those who came on later, even Ishak Zainol, all played their part.
“I hope we can keep this form when we play Albirex on Thursday in our second game, as we want to win or at least draw that match, so we can avoid Tampines (Rovers) in the quarterfinals.”
It took some time for Geylang to find their feet, though Kaplan and Michael King were certainly ploughing a dogged path towards goal down the left channel, long before the Balestier defenders woke up to that tactic.
Kaplan did well in getting to the left byline on 18 minutes, and upon looking up he elected to try and beat Zakariah Nerani at his near post, which he succeeded in doing to telling affect as the low shot deceived Zakariah before landing in the bottom right corner of the goal.
But Geylang’s joy did not last too long, as Balestier hit back nine minutes later.
Zulkiffli Hassim threaded a ball through for Kim Min Ho to steer cleverly past Eagles goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin, who was picked ahead of team skipper Yazid Yasin.
“I played Ridhuan as I promised him I would give him a chance when we played in the League Cup, at least,” Kanan explained.
“He did well for us, but when they equalised so soon, I was a little worried as, after all, they were playing at home.
“But we came back again strongly and the players showed a lot of self-belief tonight. They did not allow that goal to spoil their confidence.”
It was still Geylang making most of the running, even after the Tigers had pulled level.
A shot from Milojevic on 32 minutes was driven narrowly wide, after the striker had made a long solo run through the middle.
A big move from Geylang on 37 almost produced a second goal when Kaplan got on the end of it to send a header just wide.
Four minutes before the break, though, the visitors had the lead again.
A cross from the left by King found Kaplan, who laid the ball perfectly in the path of Nurhazwan Norasikin, whose volley fairly rocketed into the net.
Three minutes later, Park Kang Jin could only find the side-netting off a smart corner from the left by Tengku Mushadad, who sent the ball expertly towards the near post.
The second half saw the Eagles maintain their control of the game, and after a through ball from Milojevic, King was able to ram the ball home and make it 3-1 to the visitors.
That was on 65 minutes, giving the hosts plenty of time to hit back and salvage at least a point.
Jaslee Hatta managed a header that went just wide on 79 minutes, though Kim fared worse as, from inside the six-yard box, he put Zulkiffli’s useful cross well off the mark a few minutes from the end.
That left Kanan beaming as the final whistle confirmed his team’s place in the quarterfinals.
“The last time we scored three goals was also against Balestier,” he recalled, as well he might, with victories for the Eagles such a rarity this season.
It is worth noting that he was not present when the team scored three goals but still lost 3-7 to Home United, as he was away for a coaching course at the time.
When that fact was pointed out to Kanan, he promptly corrected himself, but still had reason to be proud of his charges.
“Before I left for Japan to do my coaching course, we played the LionsXII (who finished second in the Malaysia Super League) and beat them 2-0, so I know what my team is capable of,” he enthused.
“While I was away we could not play so well, but the players responded well tonight and deserved this win. I must thank all of the players for winning this match, thanks to their great teamwork and spirit.
“Albirex will be a tough game for us on Thursday, but if we play like we did this evening there’s no reason why we can’t do well against them at Bedok Stadium.”
Do that they well might, which would preserve their lead in the group and give them a decent chance at lacing their gloomy season with a silverware lining.