The Protectors dominated possession throughout but were left reeling by a trio of sharp finishes from the Tigers, who caught them out on the break to inflict a second straight lossOne couldn't fault Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng for having little to say on Friday night after his team's 3-0 loss to Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Korean cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as the Protectors dominated large swathes of the game, only to fall to a trio of sucker punches. While Home were profligate in front of goal, defensive lapses let them down at the other end in a second consecutive defeat.
"We have conceded six goals from the last two games, [which shows] we have problems in defence," Lee said at the post-match press conference.
"Our attack didn’t create chances [as well]. We made mistakes, that’s why we were punished. Opponents got their chances from our mistakes."
The Tigers pounced on those errors with aplomb, starting on 10 minutes. After Precious Emuejeraye blasted a good chance wide for Home, they were made to pay by Kim Min-ho. A one-two with Goran Ljubojevic left the forward near the top of the box, who clinically fired the ball into the bottom right corner.
Lee Kwan-Woo slammed a fierce drive over in response, before Ljubojevic's superb curling effort from the edge of the area came back off the bar.
The uniformed giants redoubled their efforts after the break, but Balestier's strategy of sitting deep and playing on the break worked a treat. Home struggled to find a way through the nine red shirts in the box, reduced to off-target efforts from range by Yasir Hanapi and Izzdin Shafiq. When they did, Fazrul Nawaz blasted narrowly over and Noh Rahman's weak effort was cleared off the line.
Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic acknowledged after the game that their defensive solidarity was the platform for victory, as Park Kang-Jin and Tajeli Salamat went on to seal the three points in the final 10 minutes.
Zulkiffli Hassim and Ljubojevic had already threatened on the counter-attack, although it was a moment of sheer genius that doubled the lead. After intercepting Noh's poor pass, Park instinctively floated a stunning lob from 35 yards over the stranded Shahril Jantan. Home's back-line was cruelly exposed in the final minute when Kim collected a neat pass on the left, before squaring for Tajeli to put the icing on the cake.
"We studied them and I knew they were going to play short passes; they have very quick players," Kraljevic explained. "The whole team played well and the teamwork was excellent."
The German-Croat also stated that they would "do their best" to secure a top-half spot in time for the S.League's half-round, with them currently six points behind sixth-placed Hougang United.
"We’ve been playing well last few games," Kraljevic observed of his team's three-game unbeaten run prior to this one. "We’ve picked up [form], we are getting better and slowly gelling together. We are close now and we are catching up."
For Home, it was another big opportunity missed to gain ground on leaders Brunei DPMM, who remain five points ahead despite winning only one of their last five matches. Lee acknowledged that his charges are still very much in contention for the title and urged them to stay focused, but was otherwise reluctant to comment more.
"[I am the] losing coach," he smiled in resignation. "No need to talk much."