Thumping 5-1 win over S.League champs a hollow one for Stags
Stags hit five against champs Albirex, but it all seems empty for coach Akbar
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Daichi Ishiyama 90)
TAMPINES ROVERS 5
(Billy Mehmet 9, Jordan Webb 37, Diego Silvas 42, 73, Shahdan Sulaiman 64-pen)
Before he took his seat to face the media at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, there was one thing Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo had to do.
The 42-year-old paused, slung the Great Eastern Yeo's S.League winner's medal over his head and around his neck, and looked down one last time at his gleaming prize, before he was ready to take questions.
Clearly, he was proud at the achievement.
It did not matter to him his side were just thumped 5-1 by S.League runners-up Tampines Rovers in a dead-rubber match - Albirex had sealed the title on Oct 14, with a 3-0 win over Hougang United.
Said Naruo calmly: "You can see from tonight's game how tough it is to win the S.League title.
"So I'm very proud we did it."
There's no doubt the coach already had his mind on the Singapore Cup final on Saturday, and he rested five first-choice players last night.
That's where a win over Tampines would matter - and help Albirex complete an unprecedented quadruple. They had already lifted the Charity Shield and TNP League Cup earlier in the season.
But Naruo warned: "To me, Tampines have the best squad in the S.League. We have to play our brand of football and show spirit to win. We have to be at our best."
Last night's match suggested Naruo had a point.
Tampines also had one eye on the Cup final, resting four regulars.
But the Stags still raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time, thanks to goals by Billy Mehmet, Jordan Webb and Prime League foreigner Diego Silvas, who made his S.League debut in place of ex-Liverpool and Arsenal star Jermaine Pennant, who was wrapped in wool for Saturday.
Tampines added another two goals in the second-half, after Tomoki Menda was red-carded for handball, thanks to Shahdan Sulaiman's penalty and American teenager Silvas' second.
Daichi Ishiyama scored a late consolation goal for Albirex with a well-struck shot from the edge of the box in injury time.
You have to go all the way back to May 2008 for the last time Albirex conceded five in a game - when they lost 5-1 to Geylang International (then known as Geylang United).
Tampines coach Akbar Nawas, however, insisted his team's demolition of the White Swans last night does not fill him with any extra confidence ahead of the big game.
"5-1, 6-1, or 7-1, it doesn't matter," he said.
The 41-year-old added: "Tonight's game is not, in any way, an indication of what will happen on Saturday.
"There's no point wondering whether their morale is low, or if our morale is high.
"In fact, everyone (in the Tampines camp) was quiet because we knew if we had played this way more regularly this season, we could have become (S.League) champions.
"But, credit to Albirex, they lasted the pace and showed us a good brand of football. So I have to congratulate them on the title win."