White Swans Back To Winning Ways In S.League
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Albirex Niigata (S) pulled four points clear at the summit of the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League after edging Balestier Khalsa 2-1 at Jurong East Stadium on Wednesday night.
After a goalless first-half, Tsubasa Sano and Kento Nagasaki struck after the break to render Aung Kyaw Naing’s late strike inconsequential as the White Swans returned to winning ways in the league.
Fresh from winning The New Paper League Cup a week ago, the Jurong East-based side were on a two-match losing streak in the S.League as they fell to Home United (0-2) and Hougang United (1-2).
One glaring omission from the Albirex side was forward Ryota Nakai who did not make the matchday squad due to injury and was replaced by Ryuya Motoda in the starting line-up.
Balestier head coach Marko Kraljevic meanwhile lined up with a makeshift central defence pairing of Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Raihan Rahman with both Hanafi Salleh and Kyaw Zayar Win missing out due to suspension.
The first-half was a scrappy affair with clear chances at a premium but it was Albirex who had an early opening. Takuya Akiyama however sent a header straight at Zaiful Nizam off Nagasaki’s freekick.
Raihan then came close in the 14th minute with a fierce 20-yard freekick which Yosuke Nozawa dealt with easily.
The next chance of note would come only in the 33rd minute but Zaiful managed to keep out Motoda’s left-footed effort with his legs.
That proved to the final chance of the half as the two teams went into the break with nothing between them.
After the restart, Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s side had two opportunities to open the scoring but Sano first volleyed over in the 51st minute before Akiyama’s header flew narrowly wide four minutes later.
It was a warning sign the Tigers failed to heed as the White Swans scored twice in the space of nine minutes.
The deadlock was broken on 59 minutes when Sano clinically finished Hiroyoshi Kamata’s right-wing cross past Zaiful to take his tally to 17 in the league this season.
Although Sano was denied by the bar in the 68th minute, Albirex duly doubled their advantage moments later.
Wriggling his way into the box, Nagasaki then curled home a powerful shot from eight yards out which went in via Zaiful’s near post.
Kyaw Naing had an ambitious attempt from 40 yards that was easily gathered by Nozawa in the 87th minute but the former would offer Balestier a glimmer of hope with one minute remaining.
Tajeli Salamat’s cross was half-cleared by the Albirex defence and the Myanmarese pounced, stooping low to head into goal despite Nozawa getting a touch.
Balestier threw the kitchen sink at Albirex in the closing stages but it was too little, too late as the latter hung on for their first win in three league games.
With the result, Albirex find themselves perched at the top of the standings with 34 points in 14 games while Balestier remain in seventh on seven points.
The Tigers will seek to bounce back when they host Hougang United next with Albirex set to visit nine-time league champions Warriors FC. Both matches will be played on Saturday.
Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “We didn’t play well today but I’m glad we managed to get the three points.
“Although the first-half ended goalless, I did not panic as I was confident that we could get the win today and it was good the team got the two goals in the second-half.
"While I was disappointed with the goal we conceded, I would rather not dwell on it and look forward to our next game against Warriors FC instead.”
Balestier Khalsa Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “It was a fair result today; Albirex were the better team and deserved the three points today.
“It’s not easy playing at Jurong East where Albirex train almost everyday but my team worked very hard and defended well. They did not allow Albirex any clear chances in the first-half but unfortunately we lost concentration and allowed Sano to score from the cross for the first goal.”
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Rui Kumada, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Ryuya Motoda, Shuto Inaba (C), Kento Nagasaki, Koki Sato (Shoma Kondo 90’), Shoichiro Sakamoto, Tsubasa Sano Balestier Khalsa:
Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Raihan Rahman, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Ahmad Syahir, Huzaifah Aziz, Hazzuwan Halim, Tajeli Salamat, Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit (Fariz Faizal 84’), Aung Kyaw Naing, Zulkhair Mustaffa (Jonathan Tan 66’)