Stewart praises 'world-class' Qiu Li

The Balestier Khalsa coach was delighted after his side won 3-1 against Hougang United to go fourth while his opponents' assistant coach Amin Nasir maintained belief in his charges
With Balestier Khalsa dominating possession but struggling to find a breakthrough, few in the 553-strong crowd at Toa Payoh Stadium would have been surprised at who stepped up to break the deadlock against Hougang United on Monday night.

Mercurial forward Qiu Li produced a moment of pure inspiration when he trapped a long punt before turning to smash a stunning 35-yard volley that dipped over Cheetahs goalkeeper Fadhil Salim in the 36th minute, drawing oohs and ahhs from the stands with his eighth goal of the season.

It was no wonder Tigers coach Darren Stewart was effusive in his praise for the Singapore international after the game.

"That’s what you get from Qiu, isn’t it?" he said about the China-born forward, who won a penalty as well as Balestier ran out 3-1 winners.

"He’s just world class, that’s why he’s here. As [assistant coach] Kevin [Wee] said after the last game, we don’t need to talk about Qiu any more [because we know what he's capable of]. But without the other players he can’t do what he does [too]."

The Australian also dismissed critics of his team's direct style of play, which has proved effective with the Tigers now sitting fourth in the S.League table.

"For a bad team mate, we are doing okay and as long as we keep playing poorly, we’ll be fine!" he jested before turning more serious.

"I guess we are just playing decent, winning football at the moment; whichever way anyone wants to look at it, I don’t really care. I was brought in by the boss Thava[neson, club chairman] to win football games for this club and that’s what we are doing at the moment.

"It's important [to maintain] our attitude and that we don’t get ahead of ourselves, which we won't because we've got too many [good] people in the dressing room for that."

Meanwhile, the Cheetahs assigned assistant coach Amin Nasir to field queries from the media in place of head coach Johana Johari after the game.

"The scoreline was disappointing but congratulations to Balestier, they took their chances well, played well and fought hard," he said about the match.

"Overall, I am quite pleased with the boys. They fought hard compared to the quarter-final [loss in the Singapore Cup] and they improved a lot, but we didn’t really create a lot of chances and that’s our problem."

Amin added that the second goal was a bitter blow to their morale but backed his charges to bounce back.

"The boys tried their best, they knew they really needed to put a good show, which they did," he said.

"The only thing is that we didn’t create a lot of chances and Balestier took theirs. I do have confidence in the boys and what we have to do right now is that we need to analyse the game, then we need to get together to train hard for the following game.

"We seem to concede goals quite cheaply I'd say, so we need to tighten up the defense. We have a break now, so at least there’s ample time for us to implement all the corrections we need."