Five-Star Albirex Seal Title In Style
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Tsubasa Sano bagged four goals as Albirex Niigata (S) sealed their second successive Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League title in style with a 5-1 victory over Warriors FC at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
Coupled with a strike from HIroyoshi Kamata, it rendered Shahril Ishak’s penalty conversion immaterial as the White Swans made sure of the championship with one game to spare.
Albirex were largely on top in the opening exchanges and it was no surprise that they went three goals up in the opening 20 minutes.
Sano broke the deadlock in the 13th minute when he dusted himself to put away the penalty after he was brought down in the box by Warriors custodian Hyrulnizam Juma’at.
The 23-year-old forward would double the lead for the Japanese outfit when he poked home the loose ball after Ryota Nakai’s shot was parried into his path.
It was 3-0 on 20 minutes with Kamata lifting the ball coolly over an onrushing Hyrulnizam after he was slipped through by Kento Nagasaki’s defence-splitting pass.
The closest Warriors came to scoring was in the 17th minute when Suria Prakash’s low shot was kept out by Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa at the near post.
The nine-time league champions would however pull one back four minutes before the break when Shahril made no mistake from six yards after Jordan Webb was fouled by Tomoki Menda in the box.
Chances dried up after the restart as Warriors goalkeeper Hyrulnizam was hardly tested with the next chance of note coming only on 70 minutes.
A low cross from the right by Kamata found Sano, but the latter scuffed his shot from inside the box.
Sano would come close again four minutes later as his effort was pushed around the post before Ho Wai Loon hacked Takuya Akiyama’s header off the line from the ensuing corner.
But Sano was not to be denied in the 77th minute as he tucked home Naofumi Tanaka’s cross at the far post to extend the lead for Albirex.
The scoring was then complete with three minutes remaining when Sano blasted his spot kick into the top corner after Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu had handled in the box for his 23rd league goal this season.
The result put the White Swans on 59 points, which is six more than Tampines Rovers who beat Brunei DPMM 5-0 away in the other match played on the same day, heading into the final match.
For Warriors, it was their eighth defeat of the season as they remain in fifth and will need a favour from Albirex and Home United if they are to stand a chance of a top-four finish.
Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “It was not easy as we thought it would be. I had set a target of 14 goals conceded so I’m disappointed we conceded a goal tonight. In fact, our initial target was to concede one goal in two games. This means we cannot concede anymore in our next game (against Geylang).
“The players worked very hard throughout the season and have improved a lot. Also, the club management has given support to the team, the sponsors helping to cheer on the team. Our supporters are also important for us and I want to say congratulations to them because they are the real winners.
“We must hit our target of 60 points otherwise it will leave a sour taste on our title triumph.”
Warriors FC Head Coach Razif Onn: “I must admit we were caught on the wrong foot and sat too deep. But credit to Albirex, their combination play was fantastic and the three early goals killed us.
“After three goals down, I was wondering what was happening but we knew Albirex are not a team can let them play as they will punish you.
“Hopefully Geylang will lose their next two matches and we beat Hougang in our last game of the season so that we finish fourth.”
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Tomoki Menda, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Rui Kumada 84’), Shuto Inaba (C), Yuuki Yamanouchi (Shoichiro Sakamoto 61’), Kento Nagasaki, Ryota Nakai, Tsubasa Sano
Warriors FC: Hyrulnizam Juma’at (GK), Emmeric Ong, Hafiz Osman, Kento Fukuda, Zulfadli Zainal (Ridhuan Muhammad 74’), Hafiz Nor, Jordan Webb, Ho Wai Loon (Poh Yi Feng 84’), Suria Prakash (Fadhil Noh 79’), Shahril Ishak (C), Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu