Exactly a year from the 2021 SEA Games, the Young Lions delivered a rare Singapore Premier League (SPL) win with grit and mental toughness that captain Jacob Mahler hoped will be a springboard to better things.
A late goal by Ryhan Stewart gave them a 2-1 victory yesterday over Balestier Khalsa, who had defender Fadli Kamis sent off.
It was the Young Lions’ second win in 10 games this term, and the result at the Bishan Stadium also lifted them off the foot of the table.
Their other victory was last month against Tanjong Pagar United, who slipped to last.
Mahler’s penalty just before half-time had put the Under-22 outfit ahead. But R. Aaravin equalised in the 56th minute.
Fadli, who inexplicably handled the ball to concede the spot kick, had an evening to forget. He was dismissed for an elbow on Hami Syahin just after the hour.
The Young Lions’ 16-year-old striker Khairin Nadim later took advantage of a stretched Balestier backline to create Stewart’s winner with four minutes to go.
Mahler said the squad are looking forward to the Vietnam Games, scheduled for Nov 21-Dec 2 next year, and also putting last year’s disastrous campaign behind them.
In the Philippines Games, Singapore’s U-22s failed to make the semi-finals after finishing fourth in their six-team group.
Those poor results were compounded by cases of ill-discipline. Nine of the 20-strong squad were fined between $1,000 and $2,000 by the Singapore National Olympic Council for breaking curfew in two separate incidents.
“The last SEA Games was my first one, and we didn’t have the best performance and things happened on and off the field, which we as players have to take responsibility for,” said Mahler, 20.
I always tell the boys that if a mistake happens in the game, move on from it immediately because there’s still the rest of the game to play.
“So we’re looking forward to next year. We know we’re nowhere near the finished product to be able to compete against Thailand or (the region’s other top teams) yet, but hopefully we can continue to develop and improve and do something different.”
Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir, who could take the reins of the SEA Games team – a head coach has not been announced yet – hailed his charges’ character, particularly after Balestier equalised.
“I always tell the boys that if a mistake happens in the game, move on from it immediately because there’s still the rest of the game to play,” said the former Lions skipper.
“And this is exactly what they did tonight. The boys showed they learnt from (conceding in the second half in) previous games against Tampines Rovers and Hougang United.”
He also praised the “confidence and hunger” they showed from the first whistle as they harangued and hassled their opponents.
The loss prolonged Balestier’s winless run to four games, with coach Marko Kraljevic saying: “We were second best for everything. We were thinking slow, closed down their players slow, lost possession very easily, and never got into the flow of the game.
“Why? I’m not sure, but I don’t want to speak too much right after the game. We’ll look back at this on Monday in training.”
In another match yesterday, Geylang International moved up to fourth after a 2-0 win over Hougang United, thanks to goals from Barry Maguire and Amy Recha.