S.League: Cunningham leads Tigers' title charge

S.League: Cunningham leads Tigers' title charge
Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League 2013: Balestier Khalsa 1 vs Harimau Muda B 1. Balestier forward Paul Cunningham (No. 5) taking a shot at goal during the match.

Eyebrows were raised when unfashionable Balestier Khalsa boldly proclaimed ahead of the opening game of the 2014 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season that they were gunning for the title.

After three games, they lie third in the standings, posting two wins (4-0 over Courts Young Lions and 1-0 over Tanjong Pagar) and a draw (1-1 with Woodlands).

Their marquee signing, Croatian striker Goran Ljubojevic, has settled in well, notching up three goals already.

Things are definitely looking up for the Tigers.

Skipper Paul Cunningham hopes their improvement will draw more fans from Toa Payoh to back them, as they go in hunt of silverware this season.

His goal is to turn Toa Payoh Stadium into a fortress.

Speaking to The New Paper on Wednesday, the 27-year old defender, said: "We need the crowd to come down to the games, because it would be great morale-booster to have their support.

"If they give us a chance, they'll see that the players put their hearts and souls into each and every performance.

"I promise the fans won't be disappointed."

Cunningham hopes to see the start of fierce local rivalries between the clubs in the S.League, which he says will engender excitement both on and off the pitch

"The fans need to support their local clubs. Then there can be local derbies.

"I'm sure that whenever we play a match against Home at Bishan, the Toa Payoh supporters who make the trip with us can make a big difference."

Good Pressure

The defender is into his fourth season as captain of the Tigers.

He is the leader of the team and he is proud to wear the armband.

He said: "They players look to me to lead them, but it's a good kind of pressure, even though you get no days-off being the captain.

"My job is easier because we don't have any big egos in the team. We all do our job, support each other and carry our weight."

Midfielder Poh Yi Feng and Cunningham are the longest-serving players at the club, with the majority in the squad signed when previous coach Darren Stewart was at the helm.

Stewart led the team to victory in the StarHub League Cup last year, the club's first piece of silverware in the professional era.

But he left under a cloud of controversy when his contract ended at the end of the season.

New coach Marko Kraljevic, a former Balestier player, hasn't missed a beat.

"One thing you notice is how people easily gravitate towards him. He's so enthusiastic and he cares about all of his players," said Cunningham.

"He's learning with the rest of us, and he's finding out what each player's strengths are and who form his best 11."

Under the Croat, the Tigers are looking to shed their mid-table reputation and turn into contenders.

"We're no longer the Balestier of old. We're now fighting contenders." insisted Cunningham. "We're going into every match respecting the other team, but we don't fear anyone.

"We know we're good enough to compete with the likes of champions Tampines Rovers, Home United and DPMM."

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