It's down to DPMM and Warriors FC for S.League title
ALBIREX NIIGATA 0
BRUNEI DPMM 1
(Adi Said 61)
And then there were two.
Brunei DPMM FC took a giant stride towards glory, as they ended Albirex Niigata's hopes of landing the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title this season with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Japanese outfit at the Jurong East Stadium last night.
The result propelled the Wasps to the top of the league standings ahead of the final day of the season on Friday, level on points with Warriors FC but with a huge +17 goal difference over them.
Crucially, last night's win was DPMM's first in four games and Steve Kean's men will now go into their final game against outgoing champions Tampines Rovers with confidence.
Former Blackburn Rovers coach Kean was understandably relieved and chirpy when he met the media after the match.
Said the Scot: "We're just delighted with the result tonight... there were times near the end where I thought if they scored there wouldn't be enough time to score another one. It was just us having our backs to the wall and hanging on.
"We want to be in a position where we are still in control of our own destiny and not having to wait for somebody to slip up, so we've worked hard for 11 months to get to this position."
Both sides had good chances to score in the first half, which alternated between misplaced passes and lightning counter-attacks.
DPMM had the ball in the net off a corner midway through the first period, but the goal was ruled out by referee Sukhbir Singh.
A flummoxed Kean said: "The disallowed goal was a strange one, because the referee said to one of the players that Adi Said was blocking the goalkeeper. Every team try to stand in front of the goalkeeper. I don't think it's a foul. If there's a bit of contact, then fine."
Albirex's best chance of the half came in the 42nd minute - Brunei custodian Azman Ilham parried Itsuki Yamada's shot in the direction of the White Swans' top scorer Kazuki Sakamoto, only for the forward to fail to connect with the loose ball.
Albirex, who still had a mathematical chance of claiming the S.League title, did well to contain the attacking threat of Roy O'Donovan and Rodrigo Tosi in the first half. The duo were afforded more space after the break, and it led to the winning goal.
Expertly finding some space on the left, O'Donovan floated a beauty into the box for an unmarked Adi to gleefully head home from the top of the six-yard box.
O'Donovan's night was marred deep into injury time when he was shown a straight red after apparently mouthing off to the referee, who had cautioned him moments earlier for time-wasting.
While they are no longer contenders, the White Swans will have a big say on the title race, as they travel to the Choa Chu Kang Stadium to face the Warriors on Friday.
Said coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama said "We have nothing to lose, we will just play for ourselves and do our best.
"I may try to use (squad) players, but I am thinking to play with my strongest team."
DPMM end their season at the Jalan Besar Stadium against the Stags, who have already beaten them twice this season.
Kean, who will have to do without the suspended O'Donovan, brushed aside the statistic and said: "The records are there to be looked at, I suppose, but I don't pay much attention to past games or form when it's the last match.
"We won't just be going there to hang on, we will try to take the game to Tampines and get goals."
"We want to be in a position where we are still in control of our own destiny and not having to wait for somebody to slip up, so we’ve worked hard for 11 months to get to this position."
- DPMM coach Steve Kean
- ALBIREX: Kenjiro Ogino, Kento Fujihara, Norihiro Kawakami (Hiroki Morisaki 90+4), Koki Akasaka (Kazuya Okazaki 57), Itsuki Yamada, Keisuke Ota (Kazuya Fukuzaki 82), Kosuke Matsuda, Kento Nagasaki, Kazuki Sakamoto, Soichiro Tanaka, Shuhei Hotta
- DPMM: Azman Ilham, AwangkuFakharrazi, Azwan Ali, Azwan Saleh, Roberto Alviz, Rodrigo Tosi, Boris Raspudic, Roy O’Donovan, Joe Gamble, Abdul Aziz Tamit, Adi Said (Shahrazen Said 88)
- TNP Man of the Match: Joe Gamble
Warriors' Weaver stays bullish
"We want to be in a position where we are still in control of our own destiny and not having to wait for somebody to slip up, so we’ve worked hard for 11 months to get to this position." - DPMM coach Steve Kean
Three wins on the trot against their title rivals and sitting top of the pile, Warriors FC were on the crest of a wave.
Second-placed Brunei DPMM FC had a game in hand, but the most successful side in S.League seemed to have momentum on their side.
But Alex Weaver's Warriors were pegged back last night without even kicking a ball, after DPMM's victory over Albirex Niigata in a pivotal clash moved the Brunei club back to the top of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, level on points but ahead by a mammoth +17 goal difference over Warriors.
In the final round of matches on Friday, DPMM take on outgoing champions Tampines Rovers at the Jalan Besar Stadium, while the Warriors entertain Albirex at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium and Weaver knows the score.
The Warriors coach was at the Jurong East Stadium to watch DPMM's win last night, and speaking to The New Paper later, Weaver conceded that the title is now out of their hands, but insisted his side still stand a good chance of glory.
"Nothing has changed for us. We still go into the next game wanting to win," he said.
"We have to focus solely on things that we can control, and we've done very, very well when the pressure's been on us.
"We'll be very disappointed if we don't take the title home, but then again you have to look at the teams around us. They've all done very, very well.
"We've given ourselves a very good chance after being focused and playing well over the last few weeks. We went to Brunei and took three points, but now it's out of our control."
DPMM just have to match the Warriors' result on Friday to claim the S.League crown, and Weaver is banking on Tampines to lend a hand.
"I think Tampines can win the game, really. They're a very good team, very experienced and with quality in every department," said the 37-year-old Englishman.
"But it's still in DPMM's hands. They know that if they win, they'll win the league."
To have any chance, the Warriors will have to beat Albirex and they will count on 21-goal forward Nicolas Velez to do the business.
"He's deadly in front of goal and you could see that when he scored four in a 4-0 win over Albirex in April," said Weaver.
"But it's not just that, he brings so much more in terms of his movement and team play.
"He's like Luis Suarez, his mere presence is enough to scare opponents."