S.League: Warriors start defence with 1-0 win against Balestier Khalsa
Warriors FC got their S.League title defence off to a strong start on Sunday evening with a 1-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Charity Shield game, which also doubled up as the curtain raiser to the 2015 campaign, was decided by Nicolas Velez's individual strike in the 28th minute handing his side their first piece of silverware of the year.
Following a disappointing 3-1 AFC Cup loss to Persipura Jayapura earlier in the week, Warriors were looking for an immediate response and coach Alex Weaver was handed a much-needed boost as he welcomed back Scottish midfielder Kevin McCann and Croatia born striker Miroslav Pejic, who had both been ineligible for continental action.
The Warriors got off to a bright start and Velez had a couple of half chances in the opening 15 minutes. The Argentinian was first denied by some alert defending from Igor Cerina and then he sent a fierce volley over the bar after being picked out by Hafiz Rahim.
Balestier gradually got into the game and Miroslav Kristic threatened twice in the 20th minute but was denied by Warriors custodian Neezam Aziz, who first stopped a bouncing freekick and then raced off his line to deny the Serbian in a one-on-one situation.
Two minutes before the half-hour mark, Warriors took the lead through a fine solo effort by Velez. Picking up possession down the left, the Argentinean charged straight at the opposition defence and steadied himself on the edge of the box, before clinically placing his shot at the near post past Zaiful Nizam's despairing dive.
It could easily have been 2-0 four minutes later when Velez once again found space and laid the ball back into the path of Hafiz, only for his 30-yard shot to be expertly tipped over by Zaiful.
The Tigers very nearly pulled level two minutes before the break when Kristic drilled a low shot into the post after latching onto Robert Pericic's flick on inside the area.
Balestier were unlucky not to equalise in the 52nd minute when Tarik Cmajcanin, having seen his initial effort charged down, played a looping ball that appeared to have Neezam beaten. However, the ball bounced off the bar and went out.
As the clocked ticked by, Warriors began to sit back to protect their lead but they did look threatening on the counter.
In the 68th minute, Pejic met Marin Vidosevic's cross with a goal-bound header that Zaiful somehow clawed to safety. The Balestier custodian then denied Velez from point-blank range six minutes from time.
It was Zaiful's heroics that prevented Warriors from winning by a bigger scoreline as he produced another fine stop in injury-time to keep out a snapshot by Pejic.
The defending champions eventually held on to their slender 1-0 advantage, and coach Alex Weaver was satisfied with the three points.
"I think we're in the same state at the same stage we were last season," Weaver said in the post-match news conference."Last year, we played Geylang [International] in our first game and we didn't play brilliantly but did enough to get the result. Likewise this year, we clearly had the better chances going forward and were deserving winners."
Balestier boss Marko Kraljevic lamented his side's lack of creativity in the final third. "It was an even game even though we were playing against the defending champions," he said. "We could have won the game but we were not really good in the attacking third -- too many passes were doing nowhere. But I'm very proud of my boys and I think they played very well."
Warriors FC Starting Line-up: Neezam Aziz, Syaqir Sulaiman (Nur Asyidiq 77'), Daniel Bennett, Marin Vidosevic, Irwan Shah, Thomas Beattie, Kevin McCann, Miroslav Pejic, Hafiz Rahim (Andy Ahmad 66'), Fazli Jaffar (Shi Jiayi 66'), Nicolas Velez.
Balestier Khalsa Starting Line-up: Zaiful Nizam, Yusiskandar Yusop (Zulkiffli Hassim 59'), Igor Cerina, Nurullah Hussein, Ho Wai Loon, Jonathan Xu, Emir Lotinac, Poh Yi Feng (Noor Akid 64'), Miroslav Kristic, Tarik Cmajcanin, Robert Pericic (Ignatius Ang 75').