White Swans coast to top spot with Rams win
Photography courtesy of Albirex Niigata (Singapore)
Atsushi Shimono and Kunihiro Yamashita netted in each half to send Albirex Niigata (Singapore) to the top of the S.League standings for at least 24 hours in a convincing 2-0 win over Woodlands Wellington at Jurong East Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The victory also erased some of the pain and anguish the hosts had suffered last week when they were eliminated 1-4 on aggregate by Tampines Rovers in the RHB Singapore Cup quarterfinals.
With this latest setback, the Rams were left still looking for their first win in all competitions since February.
Indeed, they were fortunate to remain second from bottom, following Jordan Webb’s injury-time winner against cellar dwellers Geylang United at Bedok in the evening’s other game.
Albirex made one change to the side that had lost to the Stags in the last cup outing, with striker Yasuhiro Yamakoshi making way for wide man Masatake Sato.
Woodlands kept a similar eleven that had held Geylang to a 1-1 draw at Bedok three weeks ago, with Guntur Djafril replacing Navin Vanu in the lineup.
The hosts wasted no time making an impression, as they sought to soothe the hurt from last week with three points against their luckless opponents.
Just two minutes in, Sato centred the ball to striker Toshikazu Soya, who managed to evade a challenge but saw his final touch inside the box drag just wide of the right post.
The Japanese outfit were making confident advances and showing determination and grit in getting stuck in against the plucky visitors, who were keen to contain and keep the scores level for as long as they could.
That resistance lasted only 26 minutes, though, when a crisp piece of interplay between Soya and Sho Kamimura released Shimono on the left side of the box.
The midfield workhorse drilled home past onrushing Woodlands goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar to give his side the lead.
The White Swans nearly extended the advantage several times thereafter, with skipper Norihiro Kawakami coming close twice off Sato’s set-plays, and a desperate sliding tackle by Fabien Lewis was required to deny a goalbound Soya attempt.
Woodlands barely had a sniff at Takuma Ito’s goal, and the closest they came to troubling the dominant Japanese was through a weak Lewis flick-on inside the six-yard area off a Duncan David Elias corner.
The hosts did not let up on their penetration after half-time, when Shimono intercepted a poor clearance from Lewis and launched a 30-yard attempt that flew straight into the arms of a relieved Ahmadulhaq.
They were not to be denied for long, though, when a lob from Kamimura found Yamashita, who eluded Lewis to volley home from a tight angle six minutes after the restart.
With a comfortable two-goal cushion and Woodlands barely posing a concern to their backline, the Japanese gradually eased off and coasted for the remainder of the game.
That invited the visitors, who even then were struggling to make a statement in the other half, to come at them in search of a goal that could ignite a late contest.
Australian-Lebanese forward Hussein Akil had a quickfire double attempt at the Albirex goal in the middle of the second half, but the first went over from 25 yards, while the other from outside the box drew a save from Ito.
It was the closest the Rams would have to a go at the goal, as their frustrations on their inability to come back grew with the minutes ticking away.
From just a caution in the first half, referee Leow Thiam Hoe was compelled to draw out four more yellow cards to the visitors – compared to a solitary booking for Albirex fullback Takeshi Ito – as they grew more desperate in their challenges on the orange shirts.
Soya and Yamashita came close to making it three without reply for Albirex through Sato’s dead-ball deliveries, but the home side were never genuinely troubled as they ran out comfortable 2-0 winners to rise above DPMM FC and Tampines by a point.
White Swans head coach Koichi Sugiyama praised his players for their resilience and determination in churning out three points as they maintained their challenge for the league championship.
“We have become much stronger with the win tonight,” he beamed at the post-match interview.
“Our players have done a very good job tonight and showed they could change their mentality by forgetting their losses to Tampines and turning their focus on against Woodlands.”
He hailed the experience of retained campaigners such as Shimono, Kawakami and Yamashita from the exceptional class of 2011 as pivotal in their second successive season in pursuit of the league title.
“The players who have been here last year are very calm this time because they have faced a similar challenge this season,” added the 40-year-old.
“It is positive because their experience in this situation is working out very well for us.
“It’s good to be on top, but I don’t think about the league table yet. We should instead focus on the next game and try to go for a win.”
Woodlands assistant coach Clement Teo was meanwhile unhappy with several of Leow’s decisions in examining the loss.
“Certain decisions made were questionable, especially a few yellow cards given to us,” he lamented.
“The first goal we conceded was rather controversial and silly, as the player came in first before the ball was played.”
With five yellows dished out to the Rams, the club will be slapped with an automatic fine of S$500 for receiving at least that many cautions in a single match, in accordance with league regulations.
While Teo was critical of Leow’s handling of the game, he was satisfied with his side’s performance even though they still came up short in several aspects.
“It was always going to be an uphill task for us to play against a good team like Albirex,” he said.
“We are quite happy with our performances (so far), even though there are certain areas we can still improve on, especially in terms of defending.”