Darren Stewart: I couldn't have asked more from my team

The Balestier Khalsa coach was proud of his players' efforts in a rousing second half despite defeat, while counterpart Vjeran Simunic was very satisfied with the victory
By Teng Kiat

He watched his side give their all in the second half, and despite failing to get a result in their 1-0 loss against Brunei DPMM on Friday night, Balestier Khalsa coach Darren Stewart was adamant that his players could not have done any more.

“There’s not any ounce of energy more I could have asked from the lads,” he said, adding that his instructions were to sit deep in the first half, and then capitalize in the second to take advantage of the fact that DPMM had played a game just three days earlier.

“I’ll take responsibility for asking them to sit back, but we were sluggish in our defending deep. We still wanted to press, but press from deep areas, and we were sluggish in doing that, so I’ll look into that.

“Then we changed it around and had a go and it worked. I don’t think we could have played the way we played in the second half for the whole 90 minutes. They are a fit bunch of boys but they are not robots. That’s a huge performance from the lads to come back and play like that.

“It was a disappointing goal [to concede], but we had a go and that’s what our team is all about. We were totally dominant in the second half against a good team.”

Many of the Balestier attacks were foiled by the linesman’s flag, which must have been raised at least a dozen times throughout the match, and Stewart had his own doubts over whether all were legitimate.

“I am not complaining about the referees, but I find it difficult to believe in the second half that there was at least that many [offsides] and not one wasn’t,” he said.

“If they were all offsides, then they [DPMM] played it really well.”

Despite the pain of the defeat, the Australian had no concerns that his “fantastic bunch” of players would bounce back in their next game.

“We’ve done enough to get a point, I don’t think anyone can deny us that we didn’t,” Stewart reiterated.

“Yes, we didn’t play well in the first half an hour, but over the whole 90 minutes, we deserved a point at least. We killed them [DPMM] in the second half.

“They are a great bunch of lads - I’ll talk to them over the phone and individually, because we’ve got a game on Tuesday [to prepare for].”

As expected, DPMM coach Vjeran Simunic was a delighted man after seeing his side clinch the three points against a “very good and organized” opponent, and believes they deserved any luck they got.

“When you win [against] Balestier, you must be very proud and very happy,” he proclaimed.

“We scored the goal - you can say it’s lucky, or not - but we also missed some chances.

“After that they pressed us and could have [got a] draw, but fortune sometimes falls over courageous people and Brunei [DPMM] absolutely deserved to win because we are very courageous.”

The Croatian pointed out that his side had lost the services of key players like Azwan Saleh, as well as the two imports, Ivan Bosnjak and Stephane Auvray, which led to him having to field some half-fit ones.

“I played with Dino [Drpic] who is half injured and [Tales dos] Santos. who didn’t play for one year and almost died,” Simunic claimed.

“I am just proud my team played well and my boys from the bench helped. I depend on [the] team, and we have shown again it’s teamwork [that will help us].”

Claiming that the Tigers are now a “much better” team than they were last year with “fantastic” players like Qiu Li, Park Kang Jin and Obadin Aikhena, Simunic emphasized again his satisfaction with victory in the game, which came just three days after their 1-1 draw with leaders Tampines Rovers.

“They have a coach whom I respect very much and who is very good tactically, so it’s not easy to beat Balestier,” he said.

“Now we are happy with our points [tally] - we have 15 points. End of the day, I must be very, very satisfied with four points in three days against Tampines and Balestier.

“Now we can rest, because [there are no games in the next] 10 days to play. This is good for us because we are tired.”