Albirex sting Woodlands with last-minute goal
Albirex Niigata (Singapore) maintained their hold on first place in the S.League table with a 1-0 victory over Woodlands Wellington in a ‘live’ telecast match at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday evening.
Billed as a top-of-the-table clash between first-placed Albirex and second-placed Woodlands, the game proved a tight and tense affair that was not decided until the dying minutes.
Substitute Yasuhiro Yamakoshi’s goal deep into injury time put paid to the Rams’ dreams of leaving the game with a clean sheet, after they had put in a strong performance, especially in defence, to stifle Albirex for much of the evening.
Both teams were cautious in a first half that saw few few goalscoring chances, and while that might not appeal to the general spectators, the manner in which the Japanese tried to play their passing game could.
Grabbing the lion’s share of action, Albirex seemed favourites to break the deadlock, but wasteful shooting, not to mention some good defending by Woodlands, saw the score locked at 0-0 come the half-time whistle
Sho Kamimura popped up with the first probing effort four minutes into the game when he attempted to make a pass from the right towards the centre of the Woodlands penalty box, but the ball was promptly blocked by Woodlands defender Fabien Lewis.
The men in yellow and black had their chance too, Moon Soon Ho setting Guntur Djafril up on eleven minutes to test Takuma Ito, who responded well to push the ball out for a corner.
Another chance seven minutes later had Kamimura passing from the left into the box, but despite the orange shirts available, the ball went straight past them all and was eventually intercepted by the Woodlands defence .
The Rams started to come out of their shells after the half-hour mark, and as Albirex continued to spurn their chances, a surprise victory for the team that finished bottom last year began to look like a possibility.
On 62 minutes, Guntur connected a pass to Hussein Akil, whose shot was saved by Ito.
Ten minutes later, the Lebanese-Australian was left thinking again when his sprint down the middle of the field ended with an effort that went straight into Ito’s arms.
Albirex came close shortly afterwards when captain Norihiro Kawakami attempted a header off a set play, which Daniel Hammond promptly headed out off the goal line.
Then, at the other end, a stunning looped effort from outside the penalty area by Moon had everyone in the stands gasping, but a backpedalling Ito barely managed to tip it over the crossbar for a harmless corner.
Just as it seemed both sides had to settle for a point each, an opportunity was presented to Yamakoshi barely five minutes after he had been introduced for Toshikazu Soya.
The Albirex No.9 became the hero of the night when Lewis accidentally collided with his goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar, presenting the forward with a golden chance to get past them and shot into an empty net.
That sealed full points for Albirex, who maintain their perfect record after earlier victories over SAFFC and Tanjong Pagar United.
White Swans coach Koichi Sugiyama was naturally a happy man as he looked to replicate his team’s good run from last season, which saw them lift the League Cup.
“Today all the players never gave up until the end of the game, and they played as a team,” he beamed.
“The goal is everyone’s goal. They supported each other during the game, that’s why we scored.”
While many in the stands might have been nervous about Albirex leaving the game with only a point prior to Yamakoshi’s intervention, the reigning MIKASA Coach of the Year seemed far less perturbed.
“Our team went ahead with our own pace until the end,” he remarked.
“We were never concerned about when the goal was scored. We are really satisfied about today’s result, and equally importantly, we very much appreciate every player’s effort during today’s game.
“Yamakoshi’s strength is in getting goals, and in the end, he scored before the game had finished.”
For Woodlands, the last-gasp defeat was a bitter pill to swallow after they had put up a resilient performance for 90 minutes, something assistant coach Clement Teo, sent by head coach Salim Moin to represent the team, acknowledged.
“It’s a cruel game, I would say, but that’s football,” he said thoughtfully.
“We are very pleased with the performance of the players, and we are very proud of our players, because they did what they were told.
“We did what we had prepared in the last week, the players worked very hard over the week in preparation for this game. We had more clear-cut chances in the second half, we had shots that were blocked, nice setups in the second half.
“It was very unfortunate Moon’s shot was fantastic but didn’t go in, but we had our moments. It’s just one of those days whereby we have one lapse in concentration, and it cost us the game.”