For a while, it seemed that Balestier Khalsa had it all figured out.
Two goals to the good against a clueless Courts Young Lions side, and still creating goal-scoring opportunities, Marko Kraljevic's Tigers looked to be in cruise control.
But a moment of brilliance from Adam Swandi and a stirring second showing from Jordan Webb, saw Juergen Raab's charges drag themselves back from the dead to draw 2-2 at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, to stay firmly on the path of redemption after a disastrous South-east Asia (SEA) Games outing in June.
"I'm very disappointed, we were 2-0 up and very comfortable... we created four clear chances, and should have finished off the game," said Balestier coach Kraljevic.
"We got players in the right positions at the right time, but our finishing was just not up to the mark."
Zulkiffli Hassim opened the scoring in the 18th minute and Tarik Cmajcanin added the second just six minutes later, as Balestier cut through the Young Lions' defence at will.
It was a superb through-pass from Adam that seemed to change the course of the game.
In the 42nd minute, the 19-year-old sliced open the Balestier defence to find Sherif El-Masri, who was adjudged to have been fouled by goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
Webb stepped up to score from the spot and he proved to be a constant thorn in the Tigers' side in the second period.
It was his chipped pass that found substitute Suria Prakash in the box and the 22-year-old took the ball down and slammed home the equaliser.
Growing in confidence, the Young Lions put Balestier on the back foot, but the Tigers still managed to create scoring opportunities.
However, they were let down by an off-colour Robert Pericic, who missed three chances, including side-footing wide in injury time when he had a gaping goal to aim at.
"From the kick-off, there were a lot of mistakes and many misunderstandings. We totally deserved to be down by two goals. We were very lucky that we didn't concede that third goal," said Raab.
"But it was fantastic how we came back into the match, it was a great performance."
Young Lions midfielder M Anumanthan had a torrid outing.
Moved from midfield into the heart of defence, he was guilty of several mistakes that could have led to goals, but was saved by an irrepressible Webb on the other end of the pitch. But Raab insisted that the Young Lions are not overly dependent on the Canadian, who has been earmarked under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme. "No team can lift itself based on just one player," said the German, of Webb who sat out the first half of the year, as the Young Lions were in SEA Games preparation mode.
"What they have delivered is not just down to one player, there were many who have done well," he added, pointing to the performances of Adam, captain for the night, Sheikh Abdul Hadi and even the suspended Amirul Adli.
Despite putting the Young Lions on an upward trajectory after the SEA Games, Raab has not been able to lift the team off the bottom of the table, nor earn himself a contract extension past the end of next month yet.
The Young Lions are on nine points, still two away from ninth-placed Hougang United, but have three games in hand. With the draw, Balestier leapfrogged Tampines Rovers into fourth spot on 21 points.
They face Home United on Monday, while Raab's men take on Malaysia's Harimau Muda in the Causeway Derby.
"We haven't had talks about my contract... but I just do my job," said Raab.
"I hope that against Harimau Muda, we can go into the match with more concentration, and not make too many mistakes."
This article was first published on August 1, 2015.
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