White Swans Eye Return To Summit
Albirex Niigata (S) vs Hougang United
(Friday, 14 April, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Written by: Shawn Lim
Albirex Niigata (S) will continue their Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League title defence when they take on Hougang United at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
The White Swans are currently sitting in second place in the league standings as they trail Home United on goal difference, but have a chance to reclaim their spot at the summit if they can bag all three points against the Cheetahs.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s charges are still unbeaten this season, possessing the meanest defence in the league - with only three conceded while scoring 11 which is the second highest in the league.
Despite the traditional upheaval of their team personnels every season, the new batch of players that have joined this season have clicked quickly together and showed good understanding on the pitch.
One of them is Ryota Nakai, a pint-sized and fleet-footed attacking midfielder who loves to get forward at every opportunity and is a nightmare for defenders in the league, having already found the net twice.
However, the graduate of Momoyama Gakuin University will be the first to admit that he is pleasantly surprised by how he has settled down in Singapore, which is also the first country outside of Japan that he has plied his trade in.
Keen to stress that there is much more to come from him, Nakai has set for himself some lofty expectations.
“I thought it was going to be more difficult in this new environment, but I have gained confidence from the two goals I scored,” explained the Osaka-born player.
“However, I am not satisfied with my performance so far. I think I should be scoring more goals.”
The 1.68m tall Japanese also expressed his gratitude to the S.League for helping him improve his game in order to cope with the rigours of football in Singapore.
“I am feeling the physical and aggressive playing style in Singapore. It is different from what I experienced in Japan,” said Nakai.
“So I am always looking to improve my physical attributes to better adapt to the playing style in Singapore.”
Having had to come from behind to hold the Protectors to a 2-2 draw the last time, Nakai is wary of underestimating the Cheetahs, who have not won in two games and urged his teammates to be on their toes.
“We missed two points in our previous game, so we need to get a grip on Friday for our game with Hougang. We have to be cautious in approaching this game,” said Nakai.
“For me I want to score the first goal for my team, in order to set a comfortable pace for my team.”
For the Cheetahs, head coach Philippe Aw will be keen for his side to convert their chances in front of goal after seeing how profligacy has left his side with only two wins after five games.
“The first Home goal changed the whole complexion of the game. In the first-half, we played good football even when the opposition kept coming at us,” explained Aw, after Hougang’s 2-0 defeat to Home.
“The first-half belonged to us, goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid did not have much to do. However, we need to make sure when we dominate, we must finish off the chances.”
With no wins against Albirex in their past five meetings, the Cheetahs will do well to heed their coach’s rallying cry and finish off any opportunities that come their way on Friday night.
Albirex Niigata (S) - WWWWD
01/04/17 Home United 2-2 Albirex Niigata (S)
09/03/17 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-0 Brunei DPMM
04/03/17 Garena Young Lions 0-5 Albirex Niigata (S)
26/02/17 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 Tampines Rovers
29/10/16 Albrex Niigata (S) 2-0 Tampines Rovers (Singapore Cup)
Hougang United - WLWLL
09/04/17 Hougang United 0-2 Home United
02/04/17 Brunei DPMM 2-0 Hougang United
11/03/17 Hougang United 2-0 Garena Young Lions
03/03/17 Tampines Rovers 2-1 Hougang United
27/02/17 Hougang United 2-0 Geylang International
Head to Head (S.League)
14/10/16 Albirex Niigata (S) 3-0 Hougang United
15/06/16 Hougang United 1-2 Albirex Niigata (S)
02/04/16 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-0 Hougang United
20/11/15 Albirex Niigata (S) 1-0 Hougang United
28/08/15 Hougang United 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S)