Balestier Khalsa with first-ever RHB Singapore Cup win
Marko Kraljevic's Balestier Khalsa FC stunned defending champions Home United with a 3-1 win in the RHB Singapore Cup final played out in front of a 6,157 strong crowd on Friday.
A superb strike in the 14th minute by Croatian striker Goran Ljubojevic coupled with a 27th minute penalty from Lee Minho and a third from Park Kang Jin, brought Balestier a second title -- Balestier won the League Cup in 2013 -- to the Northern club since their arrival in the S.League in 1996.
Defending champions Home United got off to a positive start with Izzdin Shafiq and Indra Shahdan probing the Balestier defence with a couple of passes, but the game sprung to life in the 14th minute when a cross from Kim Minho found Ljubojevic who took it down nicely and rifled in an unstoppable shot to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Home were determined to get back into the game immediately from the restart and captain Noh Rahman saw his shot cannon off the bar to an unmarked Indra who glanced it wide.
Lee Lim Saeng's side were made to pay for another momentary lapse in the 27th minute when they failed to clear the ball in the box to allow Ljubojevic to steal in before right-back Masrezwan Masturi hacked him down, with referee Taqi Jahari blowing for a penalty.
Minho who had been wreaking havoc down the left flank stepped up and coolly slotted in the spot-kick to hand Balestier a two-goal lead as the Tigers' fans roared in approval.
Five minutes later, Bruno Castanheira had a golden chance to pull one back for the Protectors after Lee Kwan Woo's perfect lay off, but the Japanese winger fired a meek shot into the grateful arms of goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
Home continued to pile on the pressure for the remainder of the first-half but were foiled by some stout defending from substitute Ho Wai Loon -- who came on in the 31st minute for an injured Syed Taha -- and keeper Zaiful before the whistle sounded.
Protectors brought on Singapore international Fazrul Nawaz and South Korean Kwon Dak Yung, in place of Indra and Izzdin respectively, for the second period as the reigning champions attempted a familiar second-half comeback.
The boys in red almost scored in the 54th minute when a Kwan Woo free-kick was glanced wide by Song Inyoung, while Balestier countered Home's offensive tactics by throwing on defender Jonathan Xu in the 61st minute for Ridwan Jamil.
Despite Home dominating the possession stats, it was Balestier who almost scored a third in the 71st minute when Park's through-ball put Ljubojevic into space, but his shot was denied by Shahril Jantan in goal.
Another brilliant passing move some seven minutes later, involving Park, Ljubojevic and Minho saw the latter rattle the post as Home began to lose the plot with their strikers seemingly lost for ideas.
The Tigers finally put the game to rest when Ljubojevic sprung a non-existent Home defence to lay the ball off for an oncoming Park to slot home the third goal, although there was still time for Home's Sirina Camara to score a consolation penalty in the dying seconds before the full-time whistle.
Having claimed the trophy, Balestier Khalsa FC will now represent Singapore in the 2015 Asean Football Confederations Cup Play-offs and coach Kraljevic was delighted at the postmatch conference.
"I am happy. Of course! You all never write about us being able to win. Yesterday when we came for training, all I hear is Home United, Home United. I still don't know why," he said. "I was confident coming into the game and I knew we can win. Football is all about the players showing up when it matters and doing what you need of them. I played a totally different game today than the game against them previously. I wanted the boys to pressure them high up the pitch; we scored two goals, we defended well and we waited for the counter attack. Simple plan!"
The visibly jubilant coach went on to tout himself for the Singapore job, adding: "I want to coach the Singapore national team! Why not! I don't think they are better than me. I believe I can do the job. So, why not?!"
As for Home United's South Korean coach Lee, he was deep in thought as he pondered over his team's failure to defend their Singapore Cup crown.
"I take all criticism for this loss and I am sorry that we lost the game. I am very shocked that my players did not show up and play our style of game but I feel it is my fault." said a solemn Lee. "Personally, I want to try and sit down to talk to the club and listen to their assessment and see what is the best way forward for Home United. I feel very disappointed with myself."