Tigers of Toa Payoh seek quick rebound against rejuvenated Geylang

The Tigers of Toa Payoh will be looking to bounce back quickly after a 5-0 thumping at the hands of Albirex Niigata FC (S) in their last Singapore Premier League (SPL) outing.

Standing in their way at the Toa Payoh Stadium will be a rejuvenated Geylang International side who will be out to prove that their recent run of good form is not a flash in the pan.

BACKGROUND: The high of a late 2-1 comeback victory against Home United FC at the National Stadium was followed by the low of a 5-0 mauling by reigning champions and runaway leaders Albirex at Jurong East Stadium – perfectly exemplifying how quickly fortunes can change in football.

Balestier Khalsa were simply outplayed by a better footballing side last Sunday, with Vedran Mesec’s late penalty saved by Yosuke Nozawa to rub salt into their wounds.

That made it three defeats in their last four outings, with young midfielder Afiq Salman Tan emphasizing the importance of getting their consistency back in order to stay in the upper echelons of the table.

The Tigers are now third with 13 points from 10 matches, but risk dropping further down with three teams – Young Lions, Brunei DPMM FC and Home – having games in hand.

“Other teams have made their chances count while we did not,” Afiq told FOX Sports Asia. “It’s essential for us to go on a good run of form now and start winning our next few matches. We’re confident of bouncing back from that heavy defeat against Albirex.”

Next up for Balestier is a tricky home task against Geylang, whom have improved much since the two sides last met at Bedok Stadium in April.

The Eagles went down 1-0 that evening courtesy of a Fadli Kamis volley and looked devoid of ideas in the attacking third. That game was the second of a five-match losing streak, but things have changed starkly since under the tutelage of Japanese Coach Hirotaka Usui.

They put together a three-match unbeaten run, before going down to an unfortunate last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Tampines Rovers in last Sunday’s Eastern Derby.

Forward Fairoz Hasan, whose late equaliser against the Stags proved to be in vain, believes his side is now reaping the dividends of Coach Usui’s focus on fitness as they look to rise further up the table.

The Eagles are seventh, with eight points from 10 outings – just four points adrift of fourth-placed Young Lions.

“We never lost hope despite many defeats in the first round and fitness played an important part for us too,” said Fairoz, who has two goals and two assists to his name this season. “We went through three months of high-intensity training under Coach Usui during pre-season and we’re still going through it now.

“I have to say fitness and teamwork are the secrets to our improvement in performance. I believe if we maintain our fitness levels and the understanding of each other’s play, we can finish in the top four.”

TEAM NEWS: Apart from long-term injury victim Raihan Rahman, Balestier will also miss out on the services of young defenders Shaqi Sulaiman and Sharin Majid due to injuries.

The good news for Coach Kraljevic is that Nurullah Hussein is back from suspension to bolster his defensive options.

As for Geylang, Captain Anders Aplin continues to be absent as he recovers from groin surgery, while defender Danish Irfan faces a race against time to be fit after missing the Tampines game due to a back injury.

FORM GUIDE:

Balestier Khalsa FC: WLLWL
Geylang International FC: LDWWL

PREVIOUS MEETINGS:

14/04/18 Geylang 0-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
09/09/17 Geylang 2-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
08/07/17 Balestier 0-2 Geylang – League Cup
26/05/17 Balestier 0-1 Geylang – Singapore Premier League
04/03/17 Geylang 2-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:

Keegan Linderboom (Balestier Khalsa FC)

Exploding into life in the SPL with four goals in the opening six games, Linderboom has found the going tough after an injury lay-off with no goals in his last three outings. Nonetheless the 28-year-old New Zealander forward remains a big threat upfront with his 1.88m physique and he will be hoping to break his duck against a Geylang side which have kept just one clean sheet in 10 matches.

Jufri Taha (Geylang International FC)

Making the switch from Tampines in the off-season, Jufri has been the central figure of Usui’s defensive plans – starting in all 10 matches and is one of the few players who have not missed a single minute this season. The 33-year-old will need to be at his best to shackle the towering duo of Linderboom and Mesec as the Eagles target a second shutout.

WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:

Balestier midfielder Afiq Salman Tan: “It’s been a good season for me personally and I’m shocked by my own progress because I didn’t expect to get so much game time (starting in 9 out of 10 games). Coach Marko has helped me and the other young players a lot by guiding us and giving us lots of chances to show what we are capable of. One area that I need to improve on is my strength; I need to be stronger and more aggressive to fend off defenders during the game.”

Geylang forward Fairoz Hasan: “It feels great to be back playing as a striker because that has been my position since I started my football career. I’m definitely enjoying it as I feel that I’m able to give more to the team, being in my natural position; I’m assisting and scoring goals now. I want to get as many goals as I can – at least more than 5 – but the main target to give my best for the team in every single game.”

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