Friday, July 19, 2013

Stewart hail Balestier spirit

Having fallen behind to Home United, Balestier Khalsa staged a comeback to hand the visitors all three points at the Bishan Stadium.

While he identified his side's lackluster start as the reason why they found themselves trailing early on, Stewart was delighted with the way they responded and rediscovered the level of intensity that has been synonymous with their football since the Australian took charge at the start of last season.

"It was a superb win," he said.

"In the first 25 minutes, we didn't really compete and we just had to give a bit more effort. We were second to every ball and they won every challenge, but then we started to show our normal Balestier spirit and that's what got us home in the end.

"We talked about that at halftime. What got us back was that we started to lift our intensity."

The win was enough to see the Tigers extend their unbeaten run in all competition to 11 games, but it came after disappointing 1-1 draws against Warriors FC and Harimau Muda where they had failed to hold on to winning positions.

Although the former Australia international was unsure if it was fair to look at both those draws as poor results, he admitted it was good to get back to winning ways against a 'fantastic' team like Home.

"Warriors are a massive club even though their current position may not suggest that," added Stewart. "Their budget's probably twice of ours so why should we be favourites going to their ground?

"A point at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium for Balestier is a superb result. For sure, it was a disappointing point against Harimau Muda, especially conceding an equaliser so late in a game we should have probably won 7-0, but the performance in that game was outstanding.

"And tonight [Wednesday] we changed it around by playing better football; what got us through was our toughness and work rate. Of course it is [one of the biggest wins this season].

"Home United are a fantastic club; you walk in and you get scared just looking at the trophy cabinet.

"It's a massive victory and it's all down to the work of the lads. I just have the enjoyable job of watching all of that."

Stewart also refused to get overly critical of experienced defender Jaslee Hatta for his mistake in losing possession and then giving away the penalty that led to the Protectors' opener, and has set his charges the target of continuing their unbeaten run.

"We showed great spirit to bounce back from a disappointing result," he said. "Jaslee made a mistake that anyone can make, but to bounce back from that early setback against a quality team was just terrific.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be aiming to go the rest of the season unbeaten but I'm not saying we will. But from the way we're playing and the confidence and spirit in the dressing room, why not?

"It's happened before and teams have done it, so why can't we? It's there so we might as well have a go and if there's any disappointment along the way then we'll take it in our stride."

Home United assistant coach Aidil Sharin admits it was disappointing to have lost against the Tigers after taking the lead, and does not believe it was a fair result on the night.

"Obviously it's disappointing," he said. "Especially since we were playing at home.

"To lose 2-1 after taking the lead is disappointing.

"I don't think it was a fair result as we had our chances too. The only difference was that they made their chances could and we missed a few, so that was just unfortunate."

While the teams certainly combined to produce an entertaining affair, the game was also an extremely physical one and was occasionally halted by confrontations between players from both camps.

Nonetheless, Aidil does not believe the contested nature of the match got the better of his charges and congratulated their opponents for getting their tactics right.

"This is football; it's a contact game," he added. "If you want to play, you have to go in hard for every challenge and I have nothing to say about the way they played.

"We knew Balestier's strength is in set-pieces because they have a lot of tall players. It's just unfortunate that we weren't close enough with our marking, especially in the second goal.

"Everyone knows Paul; once he gets a free header inside the box he'll do something with it, and it showed in the end result.

"When they got the first goal they kept on pressing and playing to their tactics, playing high balls all over. Perhaps it was their strategy to win a lot of throw-ins and corner kicks so that they could do something with their set-pieces.

"I think they did well on their part and showed a lot of hunger and I congratulate them for that."

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