Ten-men Balestier Khalsa inflicted a 1-0 defeat on an Albirex Niigata side distinctly lacking a cutting edge, dealing a big blow to their opponents' S.League title dreams.Second-placed Albirex Niigata (S) were edged 1-0 on Sunday night by a Balestier Khalsa side who had to play with ten-men for an hour, after winger Zulkiffli Hassim was sent off in the first half.
Kim Minho netted the winning goal in the 57th minute, condemning the visitors to what could prove to be a costly defeat with only five games left in the season.
The game got off to a scrappy start, with neither side able to enjoy possession for long as they failed to create any clear chances in the opening 30 minutes.
Park Kang Jin had an effort from range and Atsushi Shimono did likewise for Albirex, but their efforts were tame and easily gathered by both goalkeepers.
Balestier were reduced to ten men on the half-hour mark, when Zulkiffli earned two yellow cards within the space of three minutes.
Initially booked for a mindless decision to control a pass with his arm, he received a second caution after being embroiled in a confrontation, following a tackle on an Albirex player.
That was perhaps the most noteworthy piece of action in the first half, as both sides went into the break with the score tied at 0-0.
The second half continued in much the same, gritty manner as the first 45 minutes did, although Balestier were unlucky not to break the deadlock in the 55th minute.
Striker Patrick Paran, who had only come on two minutes earlier, saw his snapshot shave the bar before going over.
The Tigers did find the back of the net two minutes later, when Korean forward Kim got onto the end of a freekick that was flicked goal-wards and knocked the ball home from close range.
The White Swans pressed hard for an equalizer, but they found Balestier centre-backs Goran Subara and Paul Cunningham in fine form at the back.
Skipper Kunihiro Yamashita nodded a corner inches over the bar in the 77th minute, as the home side desperately hung on.
Hidekazu Yamamoto then did superbly to pull the ball back from the right, but his cutback was smashed straight at Balestier goalkeeper Zakariah Nerani by team-mate Yasuhiro Yamakoshi.
The buoyant home supporters erupted into loud cheers at the final whistle, as they saw their team hand title-chasing Albirex a potentially fatal defeat.xx