Leaders Albirex stretches lead to four points
White Swans far from their best but still managed to outlast Balestier to go four points clear
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||BALESTIER KHALSA|
|(Tsubasa Sano 59, Kento Nagasaki 68)||(Aung Kyaw Naing 89)|
Bruce Lee once said: "Patience is not passive. On the contrary, it is concentrated strength."
That seems to be the motto of Albirex Niigata this season.
The Japanese outfit moved four points clear at the summit of the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League last night, after a 2-1 win over Balestier Khalsa at the Jurong East Stadium.
It was not plain sailing for Albirex against a resolute Balestier side, whose game plan was to sit deep and repel everything their opponents threw at them.
But the White Swans remained patient, never showed any signs of panic, and duly overpowered the visitors.
They scored twice in a nine-minute spell in the second half to put the game to bed.
A late goal by Myanmar forward Aung Kyaw Naing was scant consolation for Balestier.
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga admitted that his players, who lifted The New Paper League Cup last Friday, were not at their best.
He said: "We did not play well today, but I did not panic and remained quite confident we could get the win."
It took Albirex 33 minutes to register their first shot at goal, but Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam was equal to Ryuya Motoda's effort.
The Tigers, third from bottom on the table, must have been delighted to enter the half-time break goalless, but Albirex were unruffled.
They continued their patient, probing game, stroking the ball across the pitch in search of an opening.
And the breakthrough arrived in the 58th minute, when winger Motoda's cross was met by star striker Tsubasa Sano, who volleyed home at the near post.
It was Sano's 17th goal in just 13 S.League games.
Sano almost bagged his 18th, but his shot in the 68th minute from the edge of the box crashed against the crossbar.
Moments later, Albirex got their second of the night.
Playmaker Kento Nagasaki slipped behind two Balestier defenders and blasted an emphatic finish past Zaiful.
With one eye on their next S.League match against Warriors FC on Saturday - their eighth game this month - the White Swans decided to shut up shop.
Balestier were given a glimmer of hope when Tajeli Salamat's cross somehow evaded every Albirex defender in the box and was turned in by Aung at the backpost.
But the strike proved too little, too late.
Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic said the result was a "fair" one based on the balance of play, saying Albirex's patient approach made it tough for any team to stay focused for 90 minutes.
"It's not easy to defend against Albirex for the whole game, sooner or later you will make a mistake, and we understand that," said the German-born Croat.
"I'm more disappointed with our players upfront... We were not able to hold the ball.
"And, when your forward players cannot keep hold of the ball, you are under pressure all the time.
"If we could hold the ball, the team can breathe a little bit. So for me, our problem is up front."
- ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Rui Kumada, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba, Koki Sato (Shoma Kondo 92), Ryuya Motoda, Soichiro Sakamoto, Kento Nagasaki, Tsubasa Sano
- BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Raihan Rahman, Ahmad Syahir, Tajeli Salamat, Hazzuwan Halim, Huzaifah Aziz, Nanda Linn (Fariz Faizal 84), Aung Kyaw Naing, Zulkhair Mustaffa (Jonathan Tan 66)