A moment of genius from Singapore international Qiu Li set Balestier Khalsa on their way to a 3-1 victory over Hougang United at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Monday night.
The visitors returned to the scene of their Singapore Cup elimination at the quarter-final stage 10 days ago, but left again without any joy as the hosts ran out deserved victors.
A miscommunication at the back almost let the Tigers in when Vitor Borges got to a back pass before Cheetahs custodian Fadhil Salim in the second minute. However, Qiu opted to pass rather than shoot when the loose ball fell to him and the goalkeeper was able to smother it.
The 30-year-old then showed why he was recently named in the latest Singapore squad by pushing a header from Borges behind, before tipping over Igor Cerina’s sliced clearance.
Balestier were doing most of the attacking in the first half with Hougang’s sporadic threats coming to naught, but they struggled to find the right touch in front of goal.
That was until Qiu produced a glorious strike in the 36th minute. Taking down a high ball 35 yards out, the China-born forward then turned to unleash a stunning volley that dipped over a rooted Fadhil to give the hosts the lead.
The Cheetahs continued to fail in their attempts to find a way past the Tigers defense after the break and they fell further behind to another moment of quality just past the hour mark.
Korean striker Kim Min-ho took a pass from compatriot Park Kang-jin in a central area before advancing to float a sublime 30-yard lob over Fadhil to double his team’s advantage.
It got worse for Hougang when Cerina brought down Qiu in the area eight minutes later to concede a penalty, which Borges confidently dispatched into the top right corner as Fadhil went the opposite direction.
Substitute Ruhaizad Ismail nearly made it 3-0 in the 76th minute when he latched on to a lovely first-time ball over the top from Qiu, lifting the ball over an onrushing Fadhil only to see the ball drop wide of the post.
A late spell of pressure saw Shahir Hamzah head home a consolation from close range during a goalmouth scramble four minutes from time, but Balestier already had the three points in the bag by then as they climbed to fourth in the table with victory.