League Cup Final: Brilliant Balestier

SINGAPORE - Four years ago, Poh Yi Feng was part of the Balestier Khalsa team who finished bottom in the S-League.

Perhaps it was fitting that the 26-year-old got on the scoresheet last night, as the Tigers beat Brunei DPMM 4-0 in the StarHub League Cup final at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The trophy is the first piece of silverware Balestier have won since the inception of the S-League in 1996.

Said Poh: "We finished last in 2008 and 2009, my first two seasons as an S-League player with this team.

"If you told me then that I would one day score in a Cup final for Balestier, I wouldn't have believed you.

"But now, from last in the league to cup winners... shiok lah!"

Tigers chairman S Thavaneson, who has been with the club since 1978, said: "It (silverware) has been a long time coming and certainly means a lot.

"Credit has to be given to everybody involved with the club. They have helped with the slow process of building the club."

Balestier were favourites heading into last night's final, having just lost once in their last 17 matches.

DPMM, meanwhile, were on a poor run, losing five of their 10 matches.

But the panache with which the Tigers clinched the win was remarkable.

For all their pre-game talk about Balestier's trademark physical style of play - DPMM coach Vjeran Simunic once described it as "rugby" - they showed they could play beautiful passing football as well.

They took just 15 minutes to open the scoring when Park Kang Jin pounced on a stray pass by DPMM defender Tales dos Santos and crossed for Paul Cunningham to head home.

The Tigers doubled their lead in the 34th minute with a wonder strike by Kim Min Ho, whose first-time volley arrowed into goal from 20 metres.

Balestier continued to dominate in the second half and Poh scored a rare goal in the 68th minute after he reacted the quickest to teammate Qiu Li's spilt shot.

The rout was complete with four minutes to go when Park brilliantly set Tengku Mushadad through on goal in the 86th minute, with the substitute coolly finishing with a low shot.

The Tigers could have bagged a fifth, but Kim's low shot crashed off the upright with just minutes to go.

Balestier coach Darren Stewart tried his best to stay out of the limelight as his players celebrated lifting the trophy, but he was later dunked with a cooler of ice water.

The former Australian international, who played for the Tigers from 1999 to 2001, said: "Tonight's not about me, it's about the team and the chairman.

"My thrill is to give them the trophy, especially Thava, who I've known since 1993 and has helped me so much in private, much more than a chairman normally would.

"I hope tonight's performance repays him a bit. We didn't just play well - we were breathtaking."

DPMM coach Simunic rued dos Santos' early error.

Said the colourful Croat: "It could have been a draw (0-0) for a long time if it weren't for the mistake.

"Who can come back from 2-0 down against Balestier? Darren Stewart has made them so solid and they are so experienced that even Real Madrid would have trouble.

"Tonight, we just came up against a better team."

Get The New Paper for more stories.