WARRIORS FC 1
(Marijan Suto 89)
BRUNEI DPMM FC 1
(Paulo Sergio 60)
In a season when local football observers have been clamouring for the tested and proven, hailing the exploits of former Arsenal and Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, it has been a refreshing week where younger players have stepped up to the plate.
After 22-year-old local forward Iqbal Hussain came off the bench to salvage a 1-1 draw for 10-man Hougang United against title favourites Tampines Rovers, it was Warrior FC forward Marijan Suto’s turn to steal the limelight as he headed in an 89th-minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw against defending champions Brunei DPMM FC last night.
Incredibly, this was the 19-year-old’s S.League debut and he started only because fellow Croatian Nikola Rak failed a late fitness test concerning an ankle injury. Teams are allowed to field a maximum of three imports and Warriors already have Japanese defender Kento Fukuda and French forward Jonathan Behe.
It wouldn’t be a surprise that few people at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium knew anything about Suto.
But boy, is he something special.
After the Bruneians opened the scoring through Paulo Sergio, the former Portugal Under-21 forward who used to be team-mates with Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting Lisbon, Suto almost equalised just nine minutes later.
He showed good skill to spin on a six pence before firing his shot against the bar. The woodwork came to the Bruneians’ rescue again when Poh Yi Feng’s 81st-minute effort hit the post.
But Suto was determined to stamp his mark on his debut and was rewarded when his 89th-minute header crept into the corner for a dramatic equaliser.
A basic research showed that Suto comes with some pedigree, joining from third-tier Croatian club NK Croatia Zmijavci on the recommendation of former Warriors striker and 2011 S.League topscorer Mislav Karoglan.
In the Prime League, he is far and away the best forward with a league-high 11 goals, contributing almost 70 per cent of his team’s total of 16 goals.
He has good height, holds the ball up well, is strong and technically sound on either foot, scoring in five out of six games he played in, including two hat-tricks.
And the Warriors are unbeaten whenever he has struck, as they sit second in the Prime League, seven points behind Home United but with two games in hand.
Amazingly, Suto has carried over that form onto the senior level.
The Warriors FC No. 26 said: “I’m very happy to play and score tonight. I hope I will improve with every game and get more chances with the senior team and continue to perform.”
Suto is not the only Warriors rookie to shine last night as second-choice goalkeeper Zainol Ishak also put in an impressive performance in place of the suspended Yazid Yasin to keep DPMM at bay in the first half.
He had to be alert to deny Sergio in the 23rd minute before making a diving save to foil Azwan Ali in the following minute. Just two minutes later, he managed to tip wide a header from the in-form Rafael Ramazotti. Then on the half-hour mark, he channeled David de Gea to use his foot to divert Azwan Salleh’s shot away from goal.
Warriors coach Jorg Steinebrunner was understandably muted after seeing his side’s winless streak extend to five games, but this was a better performance than last week’s 4-2 capitulation against Tampines Rovers.
He did praise his two rookies and said: “It was a decent S.League debut for Suto. Of course, there are things he can improve on but he has done well in the Prime League. He trained well the whole week, and did well tonight.
“As for Zainol, we knew we had a good backup for Yazid and he proved it tonight. To get a result against DPMM, you need to do well defensively, and he was a part of the defence that did just that.”
With just 10 points in 10 games, they are languishing in seventh place in the nine-team S.League. DPMM have played a game more and are fourth with 15 points. But it is fair to say their hopes of retaining their title are in tatters as they enter the halfway mark eight points behind leaders Albirex Niigata, who have a game in hand.
Their biggest problem of late has been their inability to seal three points after taking the lead, throwing away all three points in Bandar Seri Begawan when they lost 2-1 to Albirex, before dropping another two points last night.
“The lads’ chins are on their chests. They are devastated because it feels like a defeat,” said DPMM coach Steve Kean.
“We created so many chances but now we know we have to grind out maybe less impressive performances, those horrible 1-0 wins, and get some momentum again.”
WARRIORS FC: Zainol Gulam, Ismail Yunos (Fazli Jaffar 60), Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Zulfadli Zainal Abidin, Syaqir Sulaiman (Hafiz Sulaiman 85), Poh Yi Feng, Hafiz Nor, Jonathan Behe, Ridhuan Muhd (Hafiz Rahim 74), Marijan Suto
BRUNEI DPMM FC: Wardun Yussof, Helmi Zambin, Yura Indera Putera, Brian McLean, Najib Tarif, Rosmin Kamis, Maududi Hilmi, Azwan Saleh, Azwan Ali (Shahrazen Said 90), Paulo Sergio, Rafael Ramazotti
Photo credits: Christina Seah Rodrigues